Disclaimer: I own 5 copies of The Outsiders, but not the story, plot, or characters.
I remember the first time Dad took me hunting. I was eleven, and it was just me and him. He'd told me that I would have to get up early, before the sun even came up, but it didn't matter to me. I had hardly been able to sleep that night, I remember, because I was so excited about it. Dad and I hadn't done a whole lot of things just the two of us like he and Darry had, but this was all mine.
"Pony," Dad said softly, coming into my room, intending to wake me up.
"I'm awake," I said, and got out of bed, fully dressed.
Dad chuckled. "Excited, are we?"
I smiled, and followed him into the kitchen. I sat down at the table and watched him get the eggs out of the refrigerator. He glanced at me, and hesitated before cracking them into the pan.
"What's wrong?" I asked.
"…nothing. Just wondering if eating before we go is such a good idea."
"Why? I'm hungry."
Dad shrugged, and continued cooking. It wasn't until later that I realized what he had meant.
It was deer season, and we had to drive a ways before we came onto the hunting grounds. Tulsa itself wasn't exactly swimming with deer.
"Now, you have to remember to be very quiet," Dad said. "If you're too loud, then you'll scare off the deer."
I nodded solemnly. I wasn't going to let Dad down.
"You remember what I've showed you about the gun?"
I nodded. "I remember."
Dad smiled. "Good. You ready?"
I nodded eagerly, and he put a hand on my shoulder and pointed. "I want you to load your rifle, and sit right in between those two trees. Okay?"
"Okay," I said quietly, and moved to sit between the trees. I loaded the gun with steady, knowing hands. I'd loaded and unloaded this gun countless times, for no reason other than I could.
I could feel Dad standing behind me. He had watched me load the gun, and I think he was proud of me for how quickly I did it. Soda couldn't load a gun like I could.
"Been practicing?" Dad asked softly.
I bit my lip, and looked up at him. He'd never actually said that we shouldn't be loading the guns in the house, but I had a feeling that he wouldn't like it, so I never told him. Darry had found me and Soda doing it once, and had refused to help us. He'd warned us that it was dangerous, and that Dad would be mad. Soda had made him promise not to tell, though.
Dad crouched down beside me. "Yeah, I know. You and Soda never clean all the polish off, and you leave fingerprints all over it. Doesn't take a scientist."
"Oh….are you mad?" I hoped he wasn't. I didn't want to get in trouble and ruin this.
Dad smiled a little. "You know, I don't mind if you want to see the guns. Getting the feel of them, and learning how to use them safely is very important," Dad said in such a quiet voice that I had to strain to hear him. "But loading them when I'm not around can be dangerous, Pony. And I don't want anything to happen to any of you. Imagine what could happen if you weren't careful one day."
I was quiet. "I'm sorry," I said. Dad had said all of that in his gentlest voice, and he didn't seem angry, but I knew that I had disappointed him.
"Promise me that you won't mess around with the guns when I'm not there?" He asked.
I nodded. "I promise."
"Okay then," he said, and that was that.
We sat in silence for a few minutes, watching for any movement. Suddenly, a doe came into view. I gasped a little bit, and looked up at Dad.
Dad nodded, but held up a finger, signaling me to wait. When the doe stopped, she was facing us, but slightly turned. "Shoot low on her chest, just beneath the front leg," Dad whispered.
I noticed that I was shaking a little, and I couldn't take my eyes off of the doe. I didn't want to kill her, I realized. But…Dad was counting on me. I wanted to make him proud. So, I slowly lifted the rifle to my eye, and aimed. I forced myself to hold it steady. I knew that it was at the perfect angle, so I closed my eyes. I took a deep breath, and my finger tightened on the trigger. I heard her fall, and for some reason, I opened my eyes. Her soft, brown eyes were wide and locked on mine as she took her last breath. I carelessly dropped the gun, and turned away from my father. I walked a few feet away and vomited. I had killed her. When I was finished, I turned around to see Dad, standing there with a rag in his hand. He held it out to me, and I wiped my mouth. I put it in my pocket and looked at my shoes.
Dad gently lifted my chin so that I could look at him. His eyes met mine, and he looked at me steadily until I could breathe normally again. When he saw that I relaxed a little, he nodded. "You ready?" he asked.
I was confused until I saw the ropes in his hand. We still had to put the deer in the back of the truck and tie her down so she wouldn't fall out. I'd been hoping that Dad would just do it himself.
"I don't know if I can," I said honestly.
Dad, of course, understood what I meant. "I think you can. But you don't have to. I know you don't want to, but you'll feel better after you take care of it. Trust me?"
After a moment, I nodded. I followed him to where she lay, and I saw what I had done. I took a breath, and then helped Dad carry her all the way back to the truck. She was still warm.
After we had secured her, Dad jumped out of the bed. I looked at him, and then down at myself. Her blood was on my hands. Dad gave me a bottle of water, and I washed it off. I scratched my nose, and realized that my face was wet. I felt awful. I could feel tears welling up in my eyes again as Dad met my eyes. I forced the lump in my throat to go away, and refused to let any of the tears fall. I didn't want Dad to think that I was a baby. But, he didn't. He came over to me, and hugged me, hard.
"I'm proud of you," he said when he let go.
"Why?" I asked. He didn't answer me until we were sitting inside of the truck again.
"Because you took responsibility for yourself."
I didn't understand what he meant, but I didn't say anything else.
I haven't touched a hunting rifle since he died. After all, I had promised him.
Author's Note: Well, there it is. I'm not entirely sure how I feel about it, and I could say my thoughts on it, but I'm just going to let you judge for yourselves. Reviews are anticipated, and flames are accepted…but only if they're well written.