Disclaimer: I own nothing.

/A.N/: Another Steve fic,I've been feeling sorry for him lately.I don't know if my point got across this fic though but I hope it did.I know that it might not be much but just try look at how Steve's feeling.


Keepsake

"What's up, Soda?" I asked my best friend. Soda turned to me, his cigarette rolling in his mouth. He bit on it undoubtedly ruining that great nicotine taste. I snatched it out of his lips. I always hate it when he borrows a smoke of mine and doesn't smoke it right. He doesn't do it borrow often but one of his habits was to just bite on it. I put it in between my own lips for a bit before tossing it out of the open window. It was nearly a stub anyway.

"You're stressed today," I added. "You ain't bothered about Mc Goul?"

"No, I ain't," he replied. His voice was tight and he was looking out of his window from where he was riding shotgun. His arm hung in an L-shape. I wondered what the hell was bugging him so badly. He'd been quiet all day since we got our term reports back. He had failed most of the subjects but shoot, he always had and that didn't bother him. I tried to keep my report back from him but he still saw it. I managed a couple of A's and B's. I figured that even if I wasn't so smart as the kid, maybe my folks would be happy to see I didn't do too badly. Maybe this time, dad would even bring me out like he promised.

"Hey, gimme another stick," Soda said as I gunned the engine from the stoplight where we were waiting. The car skidded smoothly just the way I liked it. I ain't no old lady when it came to driving.

"Not until you tell me what's bugging you ," I told him. Not until he told me would I give him one.

"Steve, come on, be a buddy," he pleaded. "I can't tell yet,"

"Tell what?" I was getting pissed, why was Soda playing at this checkers game? I wasn't too patient and he knew that.

"You can't be mad," Soda said quietly. "You can't holler either. I haven't told Darry or Pone yet."

I glanced at my buddy in the mirror. He was looking out of the window, a lock of hair fell in a loop right above his eyes. I felt a pang of envy before guilt. It wasn't like Soda had ever shoved his good looks right into my face. He couldn't help it, no more than I could help having my own looks. I wasn't bad looking, I knew but with Soda around, I might as well be. His normally laughing eyes were crinkled. Worried. Stressed. Like always, I felt myself softening and sorry in a way I didn't understand. Ever since his folks died, he's had these lost moments when he just thought about everything and forgot at the same time. It spooked me out some because it was as though he only allowed himself to do it when he was with me but not with his brothers. That made me feel good that he trusted me so much but heavy too because I knew I had to help him but how? He wouldn't take part of my pay check or anything.

I sighed heavily before reaching over with one hand to pop open a new pack from the compartment. I tossed them over to Soda who caught 'em easily. I remembered that physical ed was something he had passed.

Soda tore open the packaging and light one up. His shoulders tensed before relaxing at the sweet, smoky smell.

"Pony 'll be mad if we're late ,"

"He'll live," I told him as I made another swerve and turned around to head to the library. "And you better tell me, pal."

"I'm thinking about dropping outta school,"

The words came soft and I stared at Soda.

"You're bluffing," I said, he couldn't! He couldn't! What about me? We were best friends! We had to stick together!

"No, I ain't, Steve," Soda turned to me, his eyes wide and hurting. "Its for the best. Darry needs the money you know. He's going crazy with all those bills. He can't keep up."

"You could take my pay, Soda," I told him. I hit the wheel, causing us to swerve dangerously. "Damnit, you can, Soda!"

"I can't . Steve, what about your pops?" he said. "I know what he does," his eyes were hard.

"Who cares if he knocks me around a bit?" I bit on my lip. "Soda, we're gonna get out of this town together , remember? Get to maybe New York ? Better jobs? All those girls? Darry was gonna come with us and we were packing Johnny and Pony along....a tuff house and a Stingray?"

Soda kept quiet and I kept rambling, my own dreams spoken aloud sounded like a lie.

"We're gonna need to go to school for that!"

"Steve," Soda turned to me, I could hear how desperate he was in his voice. "I need the money. Believe me, I have to. Darry needs it."

"And what about Darry and Ponyboy? What did they say?"

"I haven't told them yet. I just thought of it today and look, I know what I'm doing. I have to."

"They'll be real happy, yeah," I scowled as I saw the library in view.

"Why are being such a dick, man? Its not like I want to!" Soda burst out.

"Sure seems like you want to,"

"Well, I don't but I just have to."

Ponyboy came out then and saw us. He walked over and slid in the backseat.

The ride back was quiet , mostly just Ponyboy and Soda talking.

I rode around in circles after dropping them off.

Of course, Soda would do it. "What were you thinking, Randle?" I asked myself. "Soda ain't about to leave his brothers...not even for you." That thought made me feel awful alone and I drove to the nearest party I knew. I hated feeling alone. Maybe I would go find Two-Bit and get wasted properly.

The next day, at school , when Soda wasn't looking, I took a paper of his. His name was scrawled on it like normal. Sodapop Curtis . There was no sign at all that he wanted to drop out. I tried to recall if any, if ever he had said anything before,hinted or I didn't listen enough. Maybe it was my fault. Somehow. Somewhere. I stared hard at the piece of paper before I stuffing it in my bag. Just a keepsake to remind me after he went.

I was there the next night when Soda broke his news. Darry was so mad,I thought he was gonna blow but he got just as desperate in the end.

"Soda!You wanna end up like me?Doing thankless jobs that earn shit?"

"We need the money,Darry!" Soda tried. "I can get that money!I'm already working at the DX part-time and the boss can give me full-time!"

"You want to break your back,Soda?Throw away college for this? Little man,we can get the money but not this education! You can get to college. Maybe a scholarship, a better job! Life!"

"I ain't going anywhere with marks like mine,Dar!You know that good and well. The way things are going neither Pony or I will get to go school."

Pause.

"But if I drop out,Pony has a decent chance. Better than decent even."

"Soda-"

"Soda!You're kidding!You can't quit school!"

Childishly,I thought it was me who had said that. But there was Pony, his face was white and his eyes wide.

Pony was angry, he couldn't believe Soda would just drop out. What about his own life? His chances at college? I heard his lie to Pony, "I didn't want to go anyway. It was just a waste on me."

And it hurt because was it really a waste? To work so hard to get a better life? That he was the one who had lied to me when we were just kids, Pony's age, talking about what we were gonna do to get outta Tulsa?

I took out that crumpled piece of paper in the car and stared at it. Just a keepsake. Just a keepsake.


/A.N/: Whoa,after reading through this,its like my standard has totally dropped...I hope I didn't ruin this. :D R&R! Feedback is loved.