Disclaimer: Characters created by SE Hinton. I just love them and occasionally borrow them.

Flypaper Boys

Death follows them like a stray cat. Mom said don't feed it, you'll only make it come back again and again. You feed it once and it'll follow you forever.

Mothers know everything.

The letter came last Tuesday and since then Darry has slept about thirteen hours all together and Ponyboy has only been awake maybe six hours each day, and never all at once. The food in the refridgerator is going bad because neither of them have eaten much. Nobody feels like making chocolate cake, and the jar of grape jelly has been pushed to the back of the top shelf, hidden behind the milk cartons.

Today Ponyboy got a telephone call. He said, "Hello? This is he. When? Thank you." Then he hung up the phone carefully. When Darry asked who it was, Pony turned to look at him slowly, so slowly, and his eyes were so wide like all the things inside him were swelling up and hurting him beyond the point of screaming. And then he trembled, and then he fell against the wall and broke into pieces.

Now he's lying in bed staring at the wall, and his arm is stretched across where Soda used to sleep, and Darry is standing in the doorway watching him with his heart feeling like it's going to collapse in on itself.

It happens, and it happens, and it happens. Always in pairs.

Darry has a secret in the bottom drawer of his clothes-dresser. Underneath the old shirts he almost never wears are papers and papers, newspaper clippings and photographs and letters. Old receipts, just because they have Dad's signature on them. The article about Pony and Johnny and what heros they are. Soda's letters and the last one, the one about him that he didn't write, and now an obituary with a black-and-white picture of a pretty girl's face.

He thinks maybe keeping all of this just encourages it to keep happening. He thinks about who might be next. He never ever used to do this, but now every morning when he leaves for work, he tells Ponyboy he loves him because there's no telling if either of them will be there that night. That's the way the world is. That's life. That's death.

The funeral is on Saturday and it's so sunny and hot and bright that he could just kick out a window. They put on their best clothes but Ponyboy looks like he's cut out of paper, like the slightest wind will take him away and you'll never see him again. They sit in the back because people are looking at them funny, Who are these greasers and why are they here, so they try to be invisible. Darry's truck is at the back of the procession. Maybe it worked and they really are invisible because nobody looks at them when they get out and climb up the hill.

Two-Bit is there in what look like new blue jeans and a sweater. He's flushed from the heat but it must be the best shirt he owns. He wore it to Soda's, too. Darry wants to maybe ask him why he's there, but he guesses it doesn't matter, and anyway Two-Bit was there when they met her so he's as entitled as anybody.

The graveside service is short. They leave soon, and Ponyboy throws up as soon as they get in the truck.

Two-Bit follows them home and comes in and strips off his sweater. "She was pretty damn sweet," is all he says, then collapses on the couch and closes his eyes. Darry makes iced tea. His hands move mechanically and his mind is free to wander off somewhere else, and when it goes to drives in the country and trains and cigarettes and blond hair, he doesn't try to pull it back like he usually does.

It happens, and it happens, and it happens. Always in pairs. Mom and Dad. Johnny and Dally. And now...

He says Ponyboy you've got to eat something. Pony pulls the sheets up over his shoulders and stares at the wall.

There are people who seem like nothing can touch them, like they're so full of sunlight they can melt away any clouds and walk right through the pitch dark times because they know they'll be in the light soon again. They feel pain and anguish and anger and despair as surely as anyone else does, but it doesn't stick to them like it does to some people. And they can peel it off the people it does stick to.

Soda was the sunniest kid he's ever known.

The bad stuff sticks to Darry like he's flypaper.

Saturday night is hot and muggy and buggy. All the windows are open and the curtains are limp like the lettuce in the refridgerator. Two-Bit is passed out on the couch with his socks and shoes kicked off onto the carpet. The air tastes like metal and sweat and even though he takes the coldest shower he's ever taken, Darry still feels like there's film all over his skin.

He stands in the doorway and watches Pony staring at the wall and he says, "Hey, Pony." Ponyboy turns over and looks at him and his eyes are so empty it yanks Darry's heart up into his throat just like that. He wants to say something, has to, but there's nothing to say. So he says, "School starts on Monday, doesn't it?"

"Why did it have to be Cherry?" When Ponyboy starts out his voice is as dead as his eyes, but when he says her name his throat fills with tears and his voice breaks and his face scrunches up and he turns and sinks down into the pillow, his back and shoulders shuddering and his hands gripping the pillowcase like it's the last thing keeping him alive. And Darry doesn't know what to do, what to say, so he freezes into solid ice in the heavy August heat while his little brother has a total break down into the flat old pillow Soda used to sleep on.

The cat blinks slowly, and its eyes are green.

What the hell kind of life is this.