Disclaimer: I do not own The Outsiders.

The car bumped along at what seemed to be a much slower pace than before. I spent most of the ride home looking down at my lap, folding my hands one way, and then the other.

"I don't know how to do this," I mumbled.

"It's something that needs to be done. You'll figure it out, Ponyboy"

"So Steve. Does this mean you're always gonna call me Ponyboy? Y'know, instead of just 'kid'?"

"Shut up. Kid."

But I saw him bite down a smirk.

x0x0x0x0x

"I wanna be better."

"What does that mean to you, exactly?"

I thought for a moment. "I want to eat. I want to be healthy."

Dr. Pyke leaned back in his chair and looked over his glasses at me, "Anything else?"

"I want to wake up in the morning and feel good about myself. I want to know that there are things in life that I can do. I want to know that life isn't. . . Isn't worthless. Pointless."

"Do you think life is pointless right now?"

I dug my fingernails into my thighs. I could feel it sting, despite the protection of my jeans. Did I think life was pointless? Well, if I couldn't control anything that happened to me, did that mean that all the pain and suffering that I had gone through, and could potentially continue to go through was really for nothing.

"I dunno."

"You don't know?"

"I don't know."

"Ponyboy, what kinds of things in your life do you have control over?"

"What?"

"Make me a list."

"Are you serious?"

"Yes."

"Uh, okay," I said, feeling like a kid told to read aloud the first day in class, "I have control over my grades? And." But then I drew a blank.

"Is that it?" Dr. Pyke said, his eyes booring into me.

"I mean, I can control what I do. Like exercise and homework and stuff. But I can't control other people."

"You couldn't control Johnny or Dallas."

"No."

"Or your parents."

"Right."

"And that scares you?"

"Yes."

I swallowed, waiting for Dr. Pyke to say more. But he didn't. He just looked at me, as though waiting for me to say something.

"I can't keep Darry or Soda or Two-Bit or even Steve safe. I can't keep anyone safe. I don't want to be here without them. I'm not sure what I would do if something happened to them."

I wiped at my eyes furiously to keep tears from leaking out. I felt hot and stupid and embarrassed. Just like a little kid.

"I know it's stupid and selfish to want to be able to control other people," I said bitterly, "I just can't help it. I wish I could keep my family in my pocket. Or move them out to the country and keep them isolated and safe. And it used to be okay. Like, my parents died because someone else was irresponsible. Johnny got beat up by drunks. Other people were responsible. I mean, it wasn't fair and I was sad, but it made sense. Other people are dangerous. But Johnny died doing something so good, so heroic, so goddamn gallant. I mean, what's that say about life? About God? That he could take somebody who never did nothing bad. Just make them go away. I don't care that Johnny and Dally are in a better place. I wish he was here. I know that's awful. It's an awful thought. It's selfish and stupid and I'm probably going to go to Hell for thinking it, but I can't help it."

I really was crying by this time. I felt thoroughly disgusted with myself, too. I never deserved any of my friends or my brothers. I knew that Johnny was up in Heaven, walking and running and playing football, and that if he had lived he would have been stuck inside all day and miserable. But it just didn't make me miss him any less. It didn't make me feel any better.

"Ponyboy, it is extremely natural for you to feel this way. I would be much more worried about you if you were happy Johnny and Dallas were in Heaven. It's okay to miss your friends. It's okay to worry about your family. It's okay. What isn't okay is to hurt yourself because you're upset. Your brothers think the same way about you. They wish that they could protect you from anything bad ever happening. But Ponyboy, they can't. Pain is a part of life. Overcoming it is the other part."

"What's the point?"

"I'm afraid that I can answer that for you, Ponyboy. That's something that you have to answer for yourself."

"I thought you'd say something like that. How psychiatrist of you."

I said it a little snarkier then intended, but Dr. Pyke just smiled at me.

"Have you Mizuta Masahide?" He said, standing up and going to his bookshelf.

"No. Who's he? Some Chinese guy?"

Dr. Pyke laughed, "Close. Japanese. A seventeenth century samurai, and poet, that studied under Matsuo Basho. One of his poems, a haiku, goes like this:

Since my house burned down
I now own a better view
of the rising moon."

He was flipping through pages of a book. Then he would put it back and flip open a new one.

"You like poetry, don't you, Ponyboy?"

"Yeah, I do." You're gold when you're a kid, like green.

"What do you think that poem means?"

When you're a kid everything's new, dawn. "Um. Can you repeat it?"

He obliged.

Like the way you dig sunsets, Pony. That's gold. "It sounds like even though his barn burned down, he's taking the good thing out of it, which is that he can see the moon."

"Ponyboy, I would agree with you. Here," he said, handing me a journal sized book with nothing on its plain, brown cover, "Read through this later, okay?"

"Sure," I said, sticking into my backpack.

"Same time next week, Ponyboy?"

"See you then, Dr. Pyke."

Keep that way, it's a good way to be.

x0x0x0x0x

"Hey Ponyboy, how was school today?"

I shut the door of the truck behind me, "Fine," I said.

Soda smiled and ruffled my hair up, "Ponyboy, you're a good kid."

I just looked down at my feet as he started the truck. We drove in silence for a few minutes, and I could feel Soda tense up.

"Pony, are you o-"

"Soda, I've been skipping school."

Soda glanced his eyes off of the road to meet mine, and then looked back, "You have?"

"Yeah. I'm really sorry. I just couldn't deal with it, I guess. I know that's kind of a copout answer, but I don't really have any other way to explain it. I was just trying to get away from my sadness, and my brain was so focused on not thinking about sad things that I couldn't think about English and math and stuff."

"Ponyboy-"

"Wait, Soda, I ain't done yet." I took a deep breath in and when I let it out, more tears rand down my cheeks. Just great, like a blasted pansy.

"We just. . .We've had so many bad things happen to us, you know? And I just felt like I'd break if anything else happened. I love you and Darry to bits. And I care an awful lot about Two-Bit and even Steve. But I wanna make y'all proud. I wanna get good grades and be real smart and make something of myself. Do something. Maybe I can't keep us safe from everything, but I can do the best I can do right now, you know? I'm real sorry about everything, Soda. I'm gonna do better. I promise."

I had been looking at the ground again, and hadn't even realized that Soda had already pulled into the driveway and stopped. I looked out the window, and then at Soda, who was staring hard at me.

He leaned across the seat and hugged me. He hugged me so hard I thought maybe we'd be fused together forever.

"Soda," I said finally, "You're squashing me."

"I don't care," he said stubbornly, still holding onto me tight, "You are really a good kid, Ponyboy. A really good kid."

He pulled away, and I looked at him, feeling so tiny, "I'm still scared, Soda."

"Me and Darry are gonna be here for you kiddo."

"Am I going to be okay?"

The question came out childish and small, but Soda just gave me one of his charming, reassuring smiles and slung an arm across my shoulders.

"Kiddo, you're going to be just fine."

x0x0x0x0x

"Ponyboy, you in here?" The door to my bedroom swung open and Darry peeked in on me.

"Yeah, just finishing homework."

"Alright, dinners just about ready."

"Okay, be right out."

Darry started to close the door, and then opened it again.

"Ponyboy?"

"Mmhmm?"

"Love you, little buddy."

I looked up from my math and smiled at him, "Love you too, Dar."

As he closed the door, I started to shove my books back into my backpack. I felt the book that Dr. Pyke had given me, and I pulled it out and flipped it open.

On the first page were two poems, both by Matsuo Basho:

With every gust of wind,
the butterfly changes its place
on the willow.

And then below it:

When the winter chrysanthemums go,
there's nothing to write about
but radishes.

I turned the page but there was nothing on it. Or the next page. I flipped through the whole book, but all of the remaining pages were blank. I grabbed my pen and began to write.

"When Johnny and Dally died, at first I felt completely hopeless. At a couple of times I even wondered if their deaths were my fault. But I know it's not."

Fin