A/N I've had an Outsiders story knocking around in my brain for awhile, but a rewatch of the movie and a reread of the book sort of forced me to start writing or go crazy. I hope you all enjoy reading half as much as I enjoyed writing this!
I slouched down the hall toward my English class, my slow feet and tough expression hiding the anticipation I felt. Mr. Syme loved the semester theme I turned in before Christmas break, and he even gave me a C+ instead of the C he'd promised. But writing that theme had done more than get me a passing grade – it helped me think things through and work out the knot of confusion that had grown inside me until I couldn't think straight or feel anything but a kind of numbness.
I sauntered through the door, and was surprised to see that Mr. Syme wasn't behind his desk. He's always there when we arrive, partly because some kids like to mess up the classroom if there isn't a teacher watching them, and partly because he just likes to be there in case we need to ask him anything. Mr. Syme is a good ol' fella, for a teacher.
I walked to my usual seat in the back corner and made myself comfortable, with my feet propped up on the crossbar of the chair in front of me.
"Hiya, Ponyboy," Jim Baron greeted me as he slipped into the desk beside me.
"Hi, Jim," I responded. We were pretty good school friends – sat together in classes and in the cafeteria and sometimes studied together.
"Did you hear what happened to old Syme?"
A sudden pang of anxiety shot through me, but I kept it hidden beneath my cool expression. "Nah, what?"
"He went skiing last weekend and broke his leg. He's laid up in a hospital in Colorado!"
"Holy smokes," I muttered. "Can't he come home?"
"Nope. Not until he's out of traction, and that'll be at least a month."
I groaned. "Well that's just great. Whose going to teach our class now?"
As if in answer to my question, the bell rang out in the hall, and woman I'd never seen before came through the doorway.
Beside me, I heard Jim catch his breath, and then he muttered, "If that's our new teacher, I think I'll be taking English every period."
He was right – she was by far the prettiest teacher I'd ever seen, not that I'd seen many outside of my own school, but I'd bet that she turned heads no matter where she went. Her honey blond hair was pulled into a tight bun on the back of her head, but you could tell it was real curly because pieces of it had worked free and were clinging to the sides of her face. Her big eyes were blue – so bright that I could see their color all the way from the back of the room. She was just about my height, or maybe a little shorter (it was kind of hard to tell because she had high heeled shoes on) and her shape was just about perfect. She wasn't skinny, no sir, but she wasn't fat either. She just curved the right amount in all the right places.
I knew I was staring, and I guess just about every other kid was too because the before class hubbub had suddenly disappeared. She set an armful of books on the teacher's desk and turned to the chalkboard. In narrow, flowing letters, she wrote Miss Meriwether at the top right hand corner. Then she turned around and smiled.
I swear my heart stopped beating for a moment, and I guess Jim's did too, because he gave a kind of choked gasp and slumped down in his seat.
"Good afternoon," our new teacher said, although she said it differently from anyone I'd ever heard in real life before. Her soft voice pulled the words out so that they flowed kind of like her handwriting. Good aftuhnoooon. She sounded just like the southern belles in Gone with the Wind, that time Johnny and I saw it in the theater. "Mah naame is Miss Meriwethah, and Ah'll be yoah teachah foah the rest of thiis semestuh."
It took me a moment to adjust my ears to the rhythm of her speech, but I caught on real quick. Mostly she just made her vowels stretch out and turned a lot of them into "ah." It was the sweetest way of talking that I'd ever heard.
"I'm certain many of you have heard of Mr. Syme's unfortunate skiing accident. He is recoverin' in Colorado, and I will be your teacher for the rest of this year. You'll have to forgive me if I'm a little disorganized these first few days, but I just arrived from No'th Ca'line on Saturday."
I was still trying to puzzle out No'th Ca'line when she picked up a sheet and said, "When I read out your name, please raise your hand."
My last name starts with C, so I'm usually pretty close to the beginning of roll call. I waited a little uncomfortably – teachers always felt it necessary to make some comment about how unusual my name was – but when Miss Meriwether got to me, she read it out without so much as batting an eyelash. "Ponyboy Curtis?" she asked, only, of course, it came out Ponihboah Cuhtis? I raised my hand, and she checked my name off on her list just like she had the first three.
Things went smoothly until she got to the R's. "Peter Robertson?" Petuh Robuhtson?
No hand was raised in the air, and I, along with everybody else, turned a little to look over at Pete, who sat in his usual chair by the window so that he could watch cheerleading practice in warm weather. Pete's a big guy, the only reason he isn't on the football team is because of his lousy grades, and I'm not sure why he's in the A English class. He was sitting slumped down in his seat, with his long legs stretched out in the aisle, his arms folded over his chest, and smirk on his face.
"Peter Robertson?" Miss Meriwether asked again, looking around the room.
Bruce Allen, who was sitting across the aisle from Pete, kicked his foot. "Hey, Pete, that's you."
Pete looked at him in fake surprise. "Huh?" he asked loudly. "Was that my name she was trying to say?"
Miss Meriwether walked over so that she stood at the end of aisle that ran by Pete's desk. "Are you Peter Robertson?" she asked, looking at him with those big baby blues of hers.
Pete stared at her like she was speaking Greek or something, and then he looked around at all rest of us. "What I don't understand is, how come they sent us an English teacher that can't speak English?"
I writhed in my seat, burning with embarrassment for poor Miss Meriwether. Big Pete had obviously decided that he was going to ride roughshod over her, and if she was anything like some of our other lady teachers, she wouldn't be able to control him at all.
But she didn't seem upset. She just looked at Pete with a puzzled little frown, like she couldn't quite figure him out, and then she smiled, that same smile that had made my heart skip a beat.
"Peter, it seems that you and I are having some slight communication difficulties. However, when plan A fails, we simply move on to plan B." She went over to her desk and wrote for a minute on one of those little message pads that all the teachers keep on their desks, and then she walked right up to Pete's desk and handed him the note. "I trust you won't have the same difficulty readin' my writin'."
Pete looked down at the note, and then he sat straight up, his face red with anger. "You can't give me detention!"
"Oh can't I? The last I checked, Peter, I was the teacher, and you were a freshman. Kindly gather your things and go, before I decide to remove you from my class permanently."
Glaring fiercely, Pete slammed his books together and stood up. I reckoned that he wanted to scare Miss Meriwether by towering over her, but she just stared up at him coolly, and then stepped aside so that he could pass her. Pete stomped out and slammed the door behind him so that the windows rattled in their frames.
"Now where were we?" Miss Meriwether murmured, returning to her attendance sheet.
She called the rest of the role and then had us write a short essay on the best book that we'd ever read. I hate questions like that because it's so hard to pick just one, but I finally settled on Gone with the Wind, which I'd finished over vacation. Finally, she assigned some reading out of a book I'd never read before, The Lord of the Flies, and dismissed us a couple of minutes before the bell.
I never like to stampede out the door, so I took my time getting my books. I was the last one out of the classroom, and as I passed Miss Meriwether's desk, she called, "Ponyboy, could I talk to you for a minute?"
I turned reluctantly. It wasn't that I didn't want to talk to her or anything, but in my experience, it's usually not a good thing to get pulled aside by a teacher. I stopped by her desk, staring down at the books on it instead of at her, because I was afraid I might blush or something if I had to look at her too close.
"Ponyboy," she began, and to my surprise she sounded hesitant, not like she was about to yell at me. "I've done something that I hope won't upset you. Mr. Syme gave me your semester theme. That is, he called me and told me where to find it in his desk and suggested that I read it, so I did. I hope you don't mind."
I shifted from one foot to the other, thinking about it. There was a lot of personal stuff in that theme, but most of the story she probably would have found out about before long anyway. And she seemed like an ok person, the way she had stood up to Pete and everything. "No, I don't mind," I finally decided.
She smiled. "I'm glad because I have a proposition for you. That theme is good Ponyboy. It's one of the best pieces of writing I've ever seen from a student."
Privately, I wondered how many students Miss Meriwether had taught. She didn't look old enough to have been a teacher for very long.
"But it's really too long to be called a theme. Do you know what you've done Ponyboy?"
I shook my head, a little confused.
"You've written a book."
That shocked me so much that I forgot to stare at the desk and looked at her instead. "A book?" I asked in disbelief.
She was smiling real wide, and she looked excited, as though she'd just found ten bucks under her seat in the theater or something. "Yes, an actual book. And I think that with some editin' and rewritin', you could sell that book to a publisher."
My mouth actually dropped open. "A publisher? You mean like they'd print it and put a cover and a title on it and everything?"
Excitement flashed through me, and for a dizzying moment, I saw myself in a drugstore, pulling a book off the rack and looking at the cover: By Ponyboy Curtis. And all kinds of people would buy it, and read it… My excitement died away as I realized just what that meant. "I don't know, Miss Meriwether," I said slowly.
I sighed and said out loud what I'd only thought before. "There's a lot of personal stuff in there, and if everybody who knows me read it … I'm not sure I'd like that."
She nodded understandingly. "I thought you might feel that way. That's why part of the editin' process would be changin' the names. You don't even have to put your own name on the cover, if you don't want to. You could use a pen name."
I thought about it and nodded slowly. "Yeah, I guess that would be all right." I felt a little dazed. "Miss Meriwether, how come you think someone will want to buy this book?"
"Because," she said seriously, "you say important things in there. Things that people need and want to hear. Besides," she added, a sly little smile crossing her face. "I happen to know a few people in the publishin' world."
"I…Have you written a book?" I demanded.
She smiled, her full smile this time, and opened one of her desk drawers. She pulled out a book with a picture of a rowboat on the cover and handed it to me. "That Stranger, My Brother, by S.E. Meriwether," I read aloud. "Wow!"
We were grinning crazily at each other, like we'd suddenly discovered a fabulous secret that no one else in the whole world knew about.
"It's amazin', isn't it?" she asked. "I could hardly believe my eyes, the first time I held that in my hands."
"And you think…you think…"
"I think that by this time next year it will be your own book you'll be holdin'."
"Wow," I breathed, awed.
Miss Meriwether let me stare a moment longer, and then she said briskly, "If you're serious about this, it's goin' to take a lot of work and commitment. I can meet with you once a week after school to advise you, but you'll have to be willin' to do a lot of work on your own."
"Yes, ma'am, I'll work real hard. Boy, my own book!"
"I was hopin' you'd feel that way. In fact, I optimistically took the liberty of writin' a letter to your brother, to explain about you stayin' after school." She pulled a long, cream colored envelope out of her bag and handed it to me. Mr. Darrel Curtis, it read, in the same flowing letters she had used to write her name on the chalkboard.
"Thank you, Miss Meriwether," I said gratefully. That would make it easier to convince Darry that this was really a teacher's idea, not that he would protest as long as I didn't let it interfere with my schoolwork.
Out in the hall, the bell rang, signaling the beginning of next period.
"Oh dear, now I've made you late," she exclaimed. "I'd better write you a pass and let you get along to your next class." She wrote one out and handed it to me.
I thanked her again and started out of the room, then realized I was still holding That Stranger, My Brother. "Here's your book."
She shook her head. "You can keep that if you like. I've got a whole box of them at home. Here, let me autograph it for you." She flipped open the cover and scribbled something on the inside, then handed it back to me. "I'll see you tomorrow."
I ran out of the room and down the hall to my biology class. Once I'd handed my pass to the teacher and settled into my seat, I opened my new book and read the inscription.
For Ponboy Curtis, who will soon be holding his own book
Best wishes for a bright future,
To Be Continued