For PyroJoe, here's your happy ending. And thanks for all the reviews. Maybe I'll revisit this subject someday. Ideas and reviews are welcome. W.
I was lying my bed – on my stomach -- reading when Darry got home. He looked exhausted. I realized with a jolt that he'd probably gone roofing on no sleep at all. I'd been out almost all night.
He came and leaned in the doorway. "Speakin' to me yet?" he said in his usual blunt way.
I shrugged. He'd tried to talk to me the night before, but as soon as he let me up, I'd high-tailed it into my room, still half-naked. I curled myself around my pillow and Soda stroked my back as I cried myself to sleep. I hadn't done that since Mom and Dad died.
After a minute, I said, "We goin' to the station?"
Darry shook his head. "No need. Dally's going."
I stared at him. "Wha – what do you mean, Dally's going?"
"We went to see him, me and Soda. We convinced him to go on down and talk to the fuzz." Darry smiled grimly. "He's already got a record. You don't need one."
How about that. Even tough Dallas Winston was a little bit afraid of my big brother. I felt a little surge of pride, even though I was still mad and my backside still hurt.
Darry sat down next to me. "Ponyboy, we need to straighten some things out," he started, but I cut him off, blurting out the question that had haunted me all day.
"Is this going to be it?"
"Is what going to be what?"
"Is this how I get punished? No yelling, no grounding me, just straight to the strap?"
Darry sighed. Instead of answering me, he said, "I want to tell you a story."
"You're kidding." He really was out of his mind. Spankings, bedtime stories … like he thought I was six again.
"I want to tell you about the last time Dad gave me a licking," he said. "The first time, and the last time."
That got my interest. I rolled over on my side and looked at him.
"When I was about 15, Tim Shepard and me got hauled into the police station for lifting hubcaps," he began. "Timmy was going to sell them – I was just along for the ride. Thought it'd be cool. I wanted to see if we'd get away with it. We were cocky so of course we got caught."
"And the cops called Dad?"
Darry nodded. "And Tim's dad, too. Old man Shepard, he just laughed and took Tim home. But Dad was hoppin' mad. He talked to the cop and took me in one of those interrogation rooms. One of the cops dug up an old ping pong paddle and Dad bent me over a chair and busted my ass. He told me none of his boys were going to grow up to be common hoodlums, and if he ever had to spank me again, it'd be the sorriest day of my life."
He paused, and I finally prompted, "So was that it?"
Darry shook his head. "No. I didn't believe him. I figured he'd done it for the benefit of the cops – you know, so they'd think, 'Hey, Curtis paddled his kid, so he's been punished; we don't have to arrest him.' It was like a play. And it hurt some, sure, but I had jeans on and it wasn't horrible. It was more embarrassing than anything, and I figured it was worth being embarrassed to stay out of jail.
"So a couple weeks later, David Barton lifted a six-pack of beer and the two of us went over to the park to have a smoke and a drink instead of going to football practice."
I gaped at him. Darry, smoking? Underage drinking? The golden boy athlete, skipping practice?
"We were sitting there thinking we was a couple of real cool cats, boozing it up and smoking cancer sticks, no idea how dumb we looked, when who came walking through? Mom, on her way home with a bottle of milk from Callahan's store."
I was completely caught up in the story. "Oh, my God."
Darry winced, even now, at the memory. "The look on her face, Ponyboy … we put out the butts and hid the bottles, but she wasn't stupid. I never saw her that mad – not before and not after. She didn't say a thing. She just crooked her finger at me, and you bet I got up and followed her straight home. She sent me into her bedroom, away from you and Soda. I could hear you two playing in the backyard with Johnny and Steve. And when Dad got home …"
His face was starting to turn red and I was mortified for him. "You don't have to tell me, I get it," I said.
"No. I do have to tell you. I want you to understand." He took a deep breath. "Dad came in, I don't know how much later it was, and he knew all about it. I could tell from his face. He reminded me what he'd said in the police station and he asked me if I thought he'd been kidding. I did, but I couldn't tell him that, so I said no. 'Then you understand what we're doing here, Darry,' he said, and he went and got the strap. He had me take down my pants and my drawers and he took me over his knee like I was a little boy, and he let me have it."
Just like Darry had done to me.
Darry was playing with the corner of the blanket. "Dad was pretty strong. Once he had me over, I couldn't get loose. And once he started strapping me, I sure tried. By the time he was done, I was screeching to beat the band and begging him to stop."
I cleared my throat. "How – how many times?" I asked.
"How many licks, you mean?" When I nodded, Darry shrugged. "I don't know. I lost count around 15."
I squirmed uncomfortably.
"Then after, he just sat with me. He didn't even say anything. He helped me get my drawers up and sat with me until I calmed down. We came out and Mom had taken you and Sodapop somewhere, so we made dinner for everyone and that was that." Darry met my eyes. "I never disobeyed him again, ever. Not even after I was more than 18. Not until the day they died." He leaned over earnestly and rested one hand on my shoulder. "It wasn't because it hurt me, Pony. I'm not afraid of pain. I got tackled or in fistfight every damn day. It was because it hurt him. It was because I disappointed him and he thought I was better than that, so I wanted to be better than that. And it was because I knew he loved me and he didn't want to lay a hand on me, but by God, I was not going to end up in jail. And if taking that strap to me was the only way to stop it, then that was what he'd do. Do you understand?"
"Well, that's how it is with you. You asked me if this was what we were going to do for punishment. I hope not. But if I have to strap the sense into you, I will."
"Lucky me," I mumbled.
To my surprise, Darry chuckled and ruffled my hair. "Don't feel so special. I'd do it to Sodapop, too, if I thought I had to, but he's doin' alright. You and me, though, we're the same kind of stubborn, and as I recall, that belt sure gets your attention."
Yeah. It sure did. My hand went to my backside in reflex. Darry watched me give a little wince.
"I don't like strappin' you," Darry went on. "But I'm not going to let you disgrace their memory like that."
My mouth fell open and I was startled almost into crying. I'd never thought of it like that. I had to take a deep breath before saying, "I'm sorry. You'll never have to do that again." I meant it, too, I meant it way more now than I had the night before.
"Dad was loud and clear – none of his boys were going to turn out to be common hoodlums," Darry answered. "That means not you neither, and making sure of that falls to me." He stood up and stretched. "I'm going to get in a couple of hours sleep. Leave me a note if you go somewhere. Steer clear of Dallas for a couple days."
"I ain't grounded?" As soon as I said it, I could have kicked myself. Nothing like giving the man ideas.
Darry grinned wryly. "Nah. I think you've been punished enough."
He was still asleep and I was starting to dig through the cupboards for dinner when Soda came in around five. He kicked off his shoes and threw his DX shirt in the general direction of the sofa and came into the kitchen.
"How was work?"
"Just work." Soda fixed himself some chocolate milk and sat at the table. "You and Darry make up?"
"Yeah, I reckon so."
Soda shook his head. "You can't disappear like that, Pony. After what happened to Mom and Dad, every time someone's late, Darry thinks they're dead and gone." He took a gulp of his drink and then said, "I do, too. You scared us to death."
"I'm sorry," I said. "I won't do it again."
"No, I guess you won't." Soda sighed. "I know y'all think you're too old to be spanked like that. And you are, I s'pose. But you're too old to be doin' stupid stuff and breakin' curfew and all that, too, dig?"
"Yeah," I said. "I dig." And I did.
Soda smiled at me, his famous movie-star grin. "I'll make dinner, it's my turn. Go on. Find a pillow to put on your chair."
He ducked under my swing and opened the fridge. For some reason, I wanted us all to be together, so I went in and woke Darry. Maybe we could stop Sodapop from making purple pork chops.