"Do you know what you remind me of, Johnny?" Ponyboy Curtis asked me one afternoon as we laid side by side in the vacant lot looking at the clouds.

"What?" I asked as I sat up and looked at him.

"You remind me of a lost puppy that's been kicked too many times," Ponyboy said.

I stared at him. For a thirteen year old kid, he knew how to make you think. Maybe because he was always thinking himself. He was the only one out of all our friends who enjoyed reading and watching movies. Even his two older brothers weren't into reading a good book or seeing what was playing at the movie house. Just Pony did, and I sometimes went with him because he took the time to explain things to me until I understood them.

At fifteen, I was two years older than Ponyboy. But very few would be able to guess it. I look younger than fifteen and it bugs me.

"Ponyboy, mom says to come home now," The oldest Curtis brother, Darry, yelled. He stood at the edge of the lot, his hands in his pockets. "Hey, Johnny."

"Hey," I muttered back as Ponyboy and I joined him. I'm very quiet around people, even my friends. Ponyboy's the same way, but for some reason, we can talk to each other. Ponyboy might only be thirteen, but he's a good friend to have.

Darry gave Ponyboy a playful slap on the back and looked at me. I knew he was really looking at the old jean jacket I was wearing. The jacket was faded and had several worn spots on it. I got the jacket when I was thirteen and have worn it almost everyday since. Not because I was cold; but because it hid the bruises and any other marks that were from my old man.

"Darry, do you think you'll ever get to go to college?" Ponyboy asked.

"Sure, if I continue to save my money from that construction job. I might even be able to go to college next year," Darry replied.

"I don't think I'll go to college," I said softly. "I'm too dumb."

Ponyboy looked at me. "No you're not. You're just as smart as anyone else."

I gave Pony a small grin. He was the only person I knew who said I was smart and he made me feel like it. That is until I went home or had to sit in a class at school that everyone except me understood.

"Johnny, would you like to have dinner with us?" Mrs. Curtis asked once we were inside the house. "I made plenty to eat."

I liked Mrs. Curtis. She was nice looking with her long dark golden blond hair that went half way down her back and her greenish-gray eyes that matched Ponyboy's. Her personality was nothing like my own mom's; Mrs. Curtis was the most loving and caring person I know. She's the only adult who doesn't see us boys as a bunch of hoods. No, she sees me and the other three boys who her sons spend time with as people with potential. To her, we were a bunch of somebodies instead of a group of nobodies; which is how most adults in town treated us.

"Johnny!" Mr. Curtis looked up at me from the arm chair. "How's school going for you this year?"

"Um, okay," I replied softly.

Mr. Curtis had the same happy personality as Sodapop did. He was always trying to get us boys to laugh. Plus, he was always available for us boys to talk to. For most of us, Mr. Curtis was the only father figure we had. Sure, he was Darry, Soda and Ponyboy's real father. But in many ways, he was a father to myself as well as to Steve, Two-Bit and Dally.

"Mom, could you look at my history homework?" Soda asked, coming out of the room that he shared with Darry.

Mrs. Curtis took the notebook Soda was holding along with his history book. There's a rule in the Curtis' house that Soda has to do his homework before he does anything else. This is because he has more trouble with his classes than Darry and Ponyboy do. If their parents hadn't made the rule, Soda might have given up on his school work entirely. I already knew that he resented it when teachers asked him why he wasn't like Darry. To Soda, school was just a cruel reminder that he had two brothers who could bring home As and Bs while he struggled to get Cs.

"Johnny, do you want to see the picture I drew of Dally?" Ponyboy asked me.

I shrugged and followed him to his room where he handed me his sketch book. The picture of Dally was well drawn. It was better than anything I could have drawn.

"Boys, supper's ready!" Mrs. Curtis yelled.

"You better fill your plate now, Johnny," Mr. Curtis said as he put his arm across Darry's shoulders. "Once my sons get to the food, there might not be anything left."

Side by side, Mr. Curtis and Darry looked more like brothers than father and son. Only their eyes were different. Darry's were a pale blue-green, while Mr. Curtis had the same lively brown eyes as Sodapop.

I like eating at the Curtis' home. I like everything at the Curtis' home. There was no one screaming at me or hitting me. When I was there, I felt like I belonged there. I felt like Mr. and Mrs. Curtis cared about me. Which is more than I can say about my own parents.

If I had gone home for dinner, I probably would have had a peanut butter sandwhich and a glass of water. I usually don't spend much time at home because of how my folks treat me. Ever since I can remember, my fatherhas hit me and my mother screams at me things I can't understand because she's usually so drunk she can't talk right. My first memory is actually of my father hitting me with a leather belt when I was three. Not exactly the best memory to have, but not everyone has to live in a home like mine.

"Do you have enough to eat, Johnny?" Mrs. Curtis asked me.

I nodded as I put another fork full of corn into my mouth.

"There's plenty of food left," Mrs. Curtis told me. "Help yourself if you're still hungry."

Mr. Curtis gave my shoulder a squeeze. "That's right, Johnny. Don't be shy."

"Steve got a part time job at the DX station," Soda announced. "He said that he might be able to talk his boss into giving me a job, too after my birthday next month."

"I'm not sure if I'd want you working with school and homework," Mrs. Curtis said.

"Steve says they need more help on weekends," Soda replied.

"I'm not sure if I'd want you working either," Mr. Curtis told Soda. "But if you bring your grades up, your mom and I will think about it."

"Okay," Soda said. He was smiling because Steve and him did everything together. But I could tell from the sound of his voice that he wasn't sure if he could get better grades. Ponyboy could sense it too, because he gave Soda a sympathetic grin from across the table.

Dinner was over much too soon and I found myself saying good-bye to the Curtis family. The su had already set and there was a cool breeze blowing against my face as I slowly walked home, wishing that Dally or even Two-Bit was walknig with me.

It didn't take long to get to my house. The siding is in bad shape and the steps leading to the front door are broken and wobbled under my feet as I walked up them and stood on the porch looking at the patches of dirt and dead weeds that my parents call a yard.

Inside wasn't much better with the broken furniture that resulted from my parents' many fights and the walls that needed to be painted. even my own room was in bad shape. There was a hole in the wall above my bed because my father had once thrown a small table across the room at me. The few clothes I had were laid on the floor because the rod in the closet was broken I don't have a dresser. I don't even have a desk. I was lucky enough to have a bed.

My old man was passed out on the couch, a beer bottle hanging in his half opened hand. There was no sign of my mother being home. She was probably out somewhere buying more beer and whatever else my folks drank. I figured I had a few hours before I'd hear the familar shouts of one of their drunken arguments. Maybe, I'd be able to get a little sleep in my own bed for a change.

A little sleep as usual was not meant to happen. I had only been in my room for ten or fifteen minutes when I heard the front door slam, or to be more accurate, fall off the worn hinges. I think I'm the only person in my family who carefully shuts the door so it won't fall off. I heard my mother scream at my father, but I couldn't make out the words. This was followed by the familar sound of my old man throwing the beer bottle across the room and more shouting as the bottle shattered against whatever it had hit.

I changed my shirt and quietly left my room. I headed for the back door, careful not to step on any of the squeeky floor boards. Fortunately, I managed to get out of the house without my folks noticing that I was there. I had saved myself from another beating.

I stood on the corner of my block, wondering where I should go. Eventually, I settled on the vacant lot where I had been a few hours earlier with Ponyboy. The weather was still nice enough that I could spend the night outside. And if I had to, I could always go to the Curtis' home again or even Two-Bit's place.