I'm feeling kinda crazy, so why not?

Well, it's been a LONG time for this one...That's all on me. Well, me or Pepsi. We've been going through the new baby thing – you know where you get a new character and the old one has a tiff over it for a year or so and won't let you write his story... Yeah. But, here is a jump off into an attempt at an update! Hopefully it lives up to any standards!

Thanks go out to everyone who has asked after this story. It's nice to know there's still some interest!

To remind you all of what's going on:

Our story started with Pepsi coming back from Vietnam where he was sentenced in lieu of prison after the death of a man he can't remember killing. After finding things had changed at home, he takes a job at The Silver Slipper bar where Mrs. Mathews works. However, it is clear that his experiences from the war, and his missing memories from the murder are not sitting well with him. He is withdrawn, and at odds with most of the people around him. It all comes to a head when he nearly murdered Fred Hughes at the bar one night for no apparent reason. In one last ditch effort to keep out of trouble, Pepsi is forced into therapy.

And now you're all caught up! Wow, that was fun! Now, on with the shoe!

Disclaimer: The Usual.

Chapter 24 – Colds and Creaky Couches

I already hated this. I didn't need to go in there and have a session to know this was the worst idea anyone had ever had. So far, we hadn't gotten past the waiting room. We were fifteen minutes early because Darry knew that we wouldn't be on time unless he started getting us all going an hour before hand.

And by we, I do mean all of us. The whole family had to come for the first powwow, apparently. I didn't see the point. They knew I was messed up, and they weren't the ones who had to sit with this guy and let him pick apart their heads. But I was done trying to make a protest about all this. No one was listening, and no one was going to get me out of it. So I figured I might as well just get through it.

Soda was sitting beside me on the couch, fidgeting, and pulling at a hole in his best jeans. Darry sent him a dirty look every time he did that, clearly not impressed with the distraction the movements made. He was sitting across from us in a chair that looked like it had just been purchased out of the Sears catalogue, reading through one of the newspapers from off the dark coloured coffee table. Pony was doing a good impression of a wall flower off to Darry's right. He was keeping his eyes on the clock, looking for all the world like he was going to walk out if he had to wait any longer. I knew that look. He always got like that when he didn't want to be somewhere and Darry 'insisted'.

As for me, I was busy looking around the office, mainly at the walls. There was a lot of impressionist art. That made me positive the guy was a Soc. Not that the paint, fancy furniture, and the fact he had a degree didn't give that away already. The art, though – it just made it more real. It was expensive. This guy clearly made a lot of money, and that worried me. My therapy was pro-bono since the guy was friends with O'Toole, but under normal circumstances, we wouldn't be able to afford this. We wouldn't have made it past the front door of the building. As it was, we made the primly kept space look...dirty.

The receptionist clearly didn't like that. She kept glaring at us – mainly at Pony – because of it. Or maybe she knew we were going to be making more work for her. Whatever it was, she didn't want us there. I didn't want us there. Too bad our votes would be counted dead last, if they ever got counted, period.

I fidgeted, sniffing and feeling restless. After my run in with the hose last Thursday night, Red had made me take off the entire weekend as punishment for making trouble in his bar. It had the added bonus of giving me one hell of a cold. I had been in bed most of the weekend, and it had only taken three stuffed up words over the phone for Mrs. M. to make me take Monday off, too. I'd struggled through the rest of the week, probably earning that 'Puppy' nickname with how I was being fawned over by the girls. Dottie and Mrs. M. were going to mother this thing out of me, even if it killed me. Red was ignoring the fact anything had happened last week, and I was grateful. I was never any good at fitting into places, but I was comfortable in the bar – even after what happened – and I don't think I could have bared it if Red decided to either kick me out or treat me even worse. I knew he might have regretted hosing me down or leaving me to sit in my wet clothing, but he wasn't sorry about it, and any points being sick had earned me were going to be out the window when I was better. It was Friday now, and I was still having the odd sniff or coughing fit. This was one of those colds that just wouldn't go away.

I rubbed at my nose, annoyed that I had to itch it – again. I had been very still since we'd sat down, taking my sniper training as a guide for situations like this. The secret was to focus on something benign and shut down so you didn't move. Most people tensed up, but that just found you getting muscle cramps at inopportune moments. I chose to focus on that damn expensive art, but I hadn't been able to shut down. I couldn't remember dreading something more in my entire life than I was dreading talking to this doctor, and the fact my nose was alternating between stuffed up and runny didn't help things.

After what seemed like an eternity, a man in a suit came out of the office, and walked past us like we were part of the decor. He left, so he probably wasn't the doc. I could hope, though. A moment later, a man in a knit sweater-vest came out of the same room. He looked over us all and offered a warm smile. He had a bald spot that was taking over his head, but it looked like he thought that growing a moustache would make up for it. I could already tell he was an idiot.

"Curtis family," he greeted. "I'm Doctor Peter Frank. Won't you please join me in my office?"

Everyone shifted to get up, except me. Soda was on his feet, waiting. I let him. He finally sighed, grabbed my left arm, and tugged so I had to either follow the movement or fall over. I stood, glaring at him as he herded me towards the office.

The office was every bit as fancy as the waiting room, except the couch looked a lot older than the leather one that had squeaked and creaked under Soda and I while we'd waited. This one looked more comfortable. The leather chairs were meant to be around the large wood desk, but they had been pulled over to where the couch and another chair had been positioned around a coffee table. The table looked like it was the twin of the one in the waiting room, only missing all the papers and magazines that had been on the first.

Doctor Frank was gesturing for us all to sit while he looked for something on his desk. Darry took one of the chairs, while Pony and Soda both thought it was a good idea to squish me between them on the couch. Pony was taller than us now, carrying more in his shoulders than either Soda or me. It made sitting on the couch with him a bit difficult.

Doctor Frank sat in one of the remaining chairs, a pad of paper on one of his knees. He looked over us, seemingly relaxed, while we were all sitting there with our guards up and ready to fight. Yeah, a definite Soc.

"Well, it is so nice to see everyone could make it here for the first session."

I wanted to tell him that we had a couple more brothers named Steve and Two-Bit who weren't here, but I didn't feel like talking to this guy, even if it was to be a smart mouth.

"You must be Darrel," he gestured to Darry who nodded. "The tall one must be Ponyboy. And then Sodapop and Pepsi-cola are the twins."

He said this all as if it was highly fascinating to him. I was glad someone was getting something out of all this. His eyes landed on me, telling me he knew exactly who I was. Good, that meant there was no point in talking. I wanted to get up and leave. Only the warmth of Soda and Pony's shoulders kept me where I was. It was cold everywhere, except in the bar. I'd soak up warmth wherever I could get it.

"Tom told me what to expect, but it is great to have you all here in front of me. I look forward to working with you all."

Working with us all? Oh, now I was feeling very confident in his abilities...

"Like I said, I am Doctor Peter Frank, but feel free to call me Pete. I was born and raised in Tulsa, but I went to Houston for my psychology degree. I specialize in counselling war veterans."

I was really starting to get unimpressed with this guy. I wasn't here for my Nam experiences. It did make me wonder if he'd ever had anything to do with O'Toole and Dad in this setting.

"I can imagine you're all wondering why I asked the entire family here today. It's a policy of mine that the family members of those I counsel come in on the first day so that they can offer their opinions and support to the process."

I wondered if everyone he counselled was beyond help, or if their families had submitted them for torture...

Pony snorted beside me when Frank mentioned that the family should 'support' the process. He hadn't changed his mind on the whole therapy bit. I was grateful for his solidarity, but Darry was glaring at him. Darry hadn't changed his mind, either. It was useless to try to change it for him.

Frank, for his part, looked amused by it.

"Why don't you start us off, Ponyboy?" He invited.

"Well, sir. We're here," he offered and Darry was giving him that 'when I can yell at you, I'm going to let you have it' look. I was surprised it wasn't aimed at me for once. "And we're only here because we have to be."

Well, I'd say one thing for my kid brother – when he made his mind up, he really made it up.

"Pony, he almost killed someone," Soda sighed.

"Then the guy was asking for it," Pony dismissed.

I felt like sighing. Hughes hadn't asked for anything. I was willing to bet he was still puzzling over why I had tried to kill him. That made two of us.

"Ponyboy," Darry warned.

"It's alright," Frank interjected. "I did ask for him to express his opinion."

"We have to be here. Do you want Pepsi to try and kill someone else?" Darry asked Pony, ignoring Frank.

"No, I don't want that. I just think we can take care of it how we handle everything else in our family – on our own."

"Guys, please," Soda got in the middle, like he always did.

I was starting to feel like I wasn't in the room. From the way they were just arguing about me, it was a safe assumption they had forgotten I was there, too.

"But you want us to handle this like we have been handling everything since Mom and Dad died." Darry shook his head. "Look how well that turned out."

"What I don't like is the idea of some stranger coming in and thinking he can fix our problems," Pony stated, and Darry eyed him like he was very trying.

"You want to be involved," Frank interrupted again. "Understandable. That was another reason why I wanted you all here today. I will only see Pepsi two hours a week, but I hope that they will be influential hours. And hopefully now that you've met me, you will all be at ease with this."

I felt like huffing. Who cared if they were comfortable with all this?

"Now, I can clearly see that you are all here for the same thing – to see your brother get better," he paused, studying me for a moment. "But that's one thing that gets construed in my line of work. I do not believe your brother is ill. I just believe that there are some things in his mind that need to be sorted out."

We were all quiet there. Since this whole thing had been suggested, everyone had been looking at me and treating me like I was ill. I expected the shrink to be right on that band wagon. I still thought he was an idiot, but maybe he was an idiot with the right idea.

It seemed like no time at all before we'd been there for an hour – Darry and Pony arguing the whole time, while Soda and I sat there watching. Frank threw in the odd question, and Soda tried to keep everyone civil, but the whole thing was just all around a bad idea.

"Alright," Frank spoke up when the hour officially hit, looking at the clock. "I think it would be a good idea if I had some time to talk to Pepsi-cola – alone, please. You may all wait in the receiving room. It was great to meet you all."

Darry and Pony kinda gaped at him, so caught up in arguing that they had only used his questions to fuel their debate. Soda was looking at me like he was anxious to leave me alone. I just sniffed a bit, wishing I could breathe properly.

It only took a couple moments for my brothers to leave the room. Frank looked more relaxed – or perhaps relieved – as he settled back into his chair, flipping his pad of paper to a fresh page.

"You have a very dynamic family," Frank stated, and I wasn't sure if that was a compliment or not. "I really feel like I understand their personalities after seeing them all together here."

I stayed quiet, just watching Frank as he jotted down a few more things and finally looked up at me.

"So, why don't you tell me about yourself?" he suggested and I cleared my throat a bit.

"You heard it all from them," I dismissed.

"Something tells me I really haven't."

I gave him an even look. If I had my way, that wasn't going to change. "Your move, Doc."

Frank smiled a little, leaning back in his chair. "Alright."

After another half an hour, I felt like the guy knew more about me than I did – fact wise. I knew he was saving the big guns for later. Still, I felt picked apart. When we finally left, I didn't feel like there were words left, either. My brothers picked up on it, and the four of us drove home silently. Darry was driving, while Soda and Pony were in the back seat. That left me to curl up against the door of the T-Bird and just be miserable.

I knew I could only be miserable as long as I was in the car, so I was going to soak it up. When we got home, Darry was going to want to talk. He always wanted to talk, and if he didn't Soda would. But mostly, I had work later, and I couldn't go in there miserable.

Since the night I had almost killed Hughes, there were stories flying around like mad. I'd heard everything from where I had killed Hughes and had been hauled off by the Socs, to where I'd kidnapped Hughes and was slowly torturing him to death. It didn't matter what the story was, only that it had the effect of making trouble non-existent in the bar because everyone was so worried I was going to kill them. Red didn't seem to mind. He'd staked his territory the same night and managed to put me in my place all in one go. It was tough to deal with, so I didn't say anything. They could think what they wanted, and it would be no skin off my back.

So I sat in the car, soaking up the time to be miserable, and wanting to be home already. Because the worst part about all of this? It was just the beginning. There was more to come and it was only going to get harder every time I went.


Well, that was one of the few times I have ever struggled to make six pages! Hopefully that means I've suffered enough and stuff flows from now on!

Any comments at all are welcome and flames are accepted.

See ya in the funny papers!

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