Chapter sixteen.

Haha. Someone said in a review that Becca never changed out of her PJ's, though when she was jumped she had jeans on. :P That was my mistake. xP Just thought I'd mention that. (:

R&R. And no flames, please. :]

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I groaned and rolled over as the screeching of my ancient alarm clock invaded my dreams. Was it really morning already? It felt like I'd just drifted off…. Though I was still exhausted, I reached my arm stiffly over to the annoyance and flicked its switch, silencing it. I considered closing my eyes again to catch a few more minutes of sleep, but it was unlikely that I'd wake up until late, so I forced myself out of bed.

"Argh…Soda, why is there an alarm—" I cut my words off mid-sentence. Soda wasn't around—he was still at the hospital. And I was the one that had set the alarm clock so that I'd wake in the morning.

I quickly pulled on a pair of Soda's denim jeans and a clean shirt when I heard Pony shuffling downstairs. At least I thought it was Pony—it was doubtful that Darry would still be home. He usually left early in the morning, 'round six-thirty. And it was nearly eight-fifteen now.

"Ponyboy!" I called, walking down the stairs with a groggy expression on my face. "Pony, you here?" I turned the corner and arrived in my kitchen, and found myself facing Two-Bit, rather than my younger brother. "Oh…hi," I said, slightly let down. I'd wanted to try and extract some more words from Pony, but he must've already left for school.

"Don't sound too happy to see me," Two-Bit remarked, smiling and taking a swig from his beer container.

I didn't return his grin—instead I nipped at a bit of buttered toast on the counter [maybe Pony had left it for me?] and snatched a comb from the table beside the fridge. I brushed the loose hairs out of my face, tucking them carefully behind my ears, though the frizz refused to die down.

"Nice hair," Two-Bit commented, his face invading the mirror I was staring into.

"Get outta my mirror," I grumbled, digging my elbow into his chest to push him away. "Hey, don't you have school today, too?" I asked, keeping my left eye on the mirror as the frizz my head had become finally decreased. My other eye was focused on the clock by the oven, which clearly read that I was already twenty-minutes late for school.

"Yeah. I'm going in late." Two-Bit took a long drag on his cigarette. The smoke smelled up the kitchen, which made me sick to my stomach.

"Oh." My tone perked a little. Oh well—at least I wouldn't be the only student arriving late. But then again…I didn't have a note. Had I already been late three times before? Hopefully not…I'd get detention for being late a forth time….

"Kathy broke up with me again," Two-Bit said randomly, and I looked at him from the corner of the mirror. He had a grimace on his face, but it was a little hard for me to show much sympathy.

"Well maybe if you'd stop cheating on her…"

"Cheating? No…I like to think of it as…err…experimenting," Two-Bit explained, leaning up against the counter and brushing a hand through his greasy hair. He'd said those words so casually that I couldn't help but to give him a venomous look, but he only grinned bitterly in reply.

"Right…" I muttered. "Maybe you should stop experimenting, then."

My friend opened his mouth to offer me a witty reply, but I interrupted him by slinging my book bag over my shoulder and heading towards the door.

"You coming?" I called, pausing momentarily as I opened the front door.

"I'll catch up," Two-Bit assured me, and I nodded and exited the house.

My house disappeared down the street as I grew closer and closer to my hell each moment. I wasn't anticipating going to school—I wanted to go visit Sodapop in the hospital, but I didn't have a note to get myself out of school today. Gosh, I should've gotten a second excuse from Soda last night….

My school was just within reach when a hand clamped itself down on my back. I turned and witnessed Two-Bit, grinning oddly with a cupful of beer in his palm. I rolled my eyes and nudged his hand away.

"You can't bring the beer into school, you know," I reminded him, reaching our oh-so-wonderful educational hall and holding the door open for him.

"I'm gonna pretend it's apple juice," Two-Bit remarked, stepping into the air-conditioned halls. I shuddered a little and rubbed my hands together. Why the heck did they have the air on if it was getting cold outside?

I rolled my eyes [I did that a lot] and walked in the direction of the office, and so did Two-Bit. I would need to sign in and get my detention slip for being late more than three times. Two-Bit would only need to sign in—unless he shared the same situation I did, of course.

The attendance clerk gave me a dirty look as I entered, and I actually winced on the inside. I wasn't liking her glare, and especially so as she held a piece of paper out to me when I reached her desk. It wasn't a detention slip, so I was caught off guard. It was a white paper, lined and with printed black words across the page. It was very "official", and I wasn't liking the looks of it.

"What's this?" I asked, clutching the paper in my fist. The top read Behavioral Conference Sheet. What did that mean? I wasn't the best with big words.

"It's a conference sheet," the attendance clerk replied sternly. "It needs to be signed and returned by your guardian—your oldest brother, Darrel, is it?"

I nodded my head and heaved a quiet sigh of relief. So Soda would just forge Darry's signature. Big deal.

"And," the attendance clerk continued, and my heart gave a little jolt, "a date and time for a conference needs to be marked down. Darrel needs to come in and discuss why you've been skipping class."

"Huh?" I raised both my eyebrows stupidly, playing oblivious. Darry would hardly be able to sign the sheet, let alone come in for a conference. He'd explode and freak out or something, and that would be bad news for me.

"Don't act like you haven't been skipping class," the clerk snapped. "We're not idiots, Miss Curtis. We've noticed the pattern."

"But I haven't—"

"One more word and you've got a second day of detention, added on to your lunch detention for being late." The clerk hesitated. Her eyes ran over my face, bitter and disgusted. I gnawed gently on my lower lip and matched her glare, which automatically caused her to write a second detention slip. "You've got lunch detention today and after school detention tomorrow. And get that slip signed and returned by the end of the week or the principal will be calling your brother personally."

"But—"

"No buts—now get to class so I can sign Mr. Mathews in."

My cheeks flared an ugly red color as the clerk kept her eyes on me, shooing me away with her hand. I'd never felt more angry in my entire life. Well, actually—maybe when Darry had hurt Sodapop the furiousness had been matched. Gosh, that clerk had no idea what was going on at home. And besides, Darry had work, anyway. He was really going to appreciate being pulled away from that….

"Fine!" I growled finally, raising my voice in hostility and exiting the office, slamming the glass-plated door behind me. I wished it would've shattered, but I hadn't closed it hard enough, and it didn't seem like it was worth it to go back and hit the glass.

I considered skipping school entirely, but then I realized that was what had gotten me into this mess, so repeating the crime wouldn't be the brightest idea. But then again…I wasn't the brightest girl in the world.

I spun on my heel, facing away from the tenth grade hallway and staring at the front door of the school. It was located directly beside the office, so I would have to be quick on my feet to exit without the clerk noticing.

The clerk was looking away from the door now. She grabbed a paper off her assistant's desk. Okay, three…two…one….

"You're skipping again?"

Without turning to face the sudden voice, I answered. I already knew that it was Two-Bit.

"Go to class," I snapped.

There was a slightly pregnant pause, so Two-Bit replaced it with words. "What's wrong?"

Now I was staring him in the eyes. Did it look like something was wrong? I didn't know I was that readable.

"What d'you mean what's wrong?" I demanded icily.

"You're shaking," Two-Bit pointed out, and it took me a moment to realize my entire body was trembling.

"H-huh?" Oh Lord, I was spluttering now. "No, I'm not. I just…" I didn't know what to say. So I was shaking. Did that mean I was afraid of Darry, or I was just that angry? I didn't know—ugh, I was so God-awful at reading people that I sometimes couldn't even understand myself.

"You just what?" Two-Bit demanded, and I sighed and realized I hadn't completed my sentence. Okay, I'd just say I wasn't feeling real good…. Sure, that'd be a decent enough excuse, wouldn't it?

"I'm just feeling lousy," I assured him, but I knew Two-Bit wasn't buying it by the way he cocked his eyebrows.

"Why won't you tell me?" Two-Bit asked, and I kind of flinched at the sound of his voice. He seemed generally sincere, but I couldn't be sure.

"Because you have the sensitivity of a grain of sand, that's why," I snarled. Damn, why was I being so rude to Two-Bit? It was almost as though I couldn't help it. I felt so angry. So furious…. And kind of afraid, too.

Two-Bit hadn't replied yet. Maybe I'd hurt him, though I considered that unlikely, or maybe he didn't know what to say. But that was unlikely, too. After all, the gang had come up with his nickname on account of his inability to keep his Goddamn mouth shut.

"Two-Bit?" I looked up at him for an instant, pushing the conversation forward since he obviously wasn't interested in doing so.

My friend matched my gaze. "Yeah?"

"What do you think about beating on girls?" I didn't know why I'd spoken those words so easily, so casually. It kind of felt like I'd gotten used to that idea—girls gettin' beat on by guys.

Two-Bit's eyes shied away from mine and wandered to his hand, which was reaching into his back pocket. He ended up getting a cigarette and taking a long drag on it, which was risky—seeing as he was standing in the middle of the school hallway.

"I don't hit chicks...not unless I've got a good reason or somethin'," he answered finally.

"I didn't say you did."

"Then what were you saying?"

I hesitated. What was I saying?

"I don't know," I replied quietly.

And then I left without another word….