A/N : I do not own The Outsiders. All rights, characters, etc. belong to SE Hinton. Thanks, Susan.
"Well, Darry, what are you gonna do? Certainly you've decided by now?"
Michelle was giving me that look, that knowing look that I was being overprotective again. I hated it, mostly because I knew she was right. Still, looking up at the weather, I had my doubts.
"Yeah, I'll let him go. But I ain't gonna like it." I set the grocery bags in the back of the truck and looked at her.
She smirked. "Of course you won't like it... nobody said you had to like it, but the two of them will be together. Sodapop can keep Ponyboy in line … better than you can, anyway."
She was teasing me, and it was getting on my nerves.
"What's that supposed to mean?" I grumbled as I opened my truck door for her.
"That you are more parental than brotherly, and teenagers are - by definition - rebellious of their parents."
Not liking the fact that I was losing this argument, I tried once more for the upper hand. "I am his brother. He knows that." I groused as I climbed in and started the engine.
"Yes, he does. He also realizes that you have authority that overshadows being his brother. Sodapop doesn't have that authority. Not officially, anyway."
I was thinking hard for a comeback, but had none. Next thing I knew, Michelle's fingers were gently brushing the nape of my neck, and I gave up the argument altogether.
"Besides, this way we can spend New Years Eve together. If you want to, that is."
I looked at her, fighting hard not to grin like an idiot. I hadn't thought about it that way. I took her hand and held it, resting our linked fingers on my knee.
"I'd like that just fine."
No one was home when I pulled back to the house. I knew Soda was at work but had no idea where Pony'd run off to. He wasn't over at Rosewood's, that much I did know. He was going in tonight for a few hours, his last gig before Christmas. Michelle poured herself something to drink while I put away the groceries that I'd planned to make Christmas dinner with.
"Mmmh, a silent house. This could be interesting....." Her eyes were devious.
"Very interesting..." I agreed as I wedged her in between the sink and the stove, leaning in to savor her scent. However, as our lips brushed against each other, the front door opened with a bang as someone else had arrived. I moved away, feeling the heat on my face and an unsettled pleasantness a little further south.
"Oh, hey Darry. Michelle. Didja get any Oreo's?"
Michelle's face was still flushed red as she watched my youngest brother search the pantry. It was obvious he'd been out running. He was wearing at least two layers of sweat pants, two different sweat tops, and a running jacket. Sweat beaded on his face and ran down his neck. His shoes made muddy tracks on the floor as he went from cabinet to fridge in search of something to eat and drink.
"Heck, Pony... I just got the grocery. Can't you let it sit in the cabinet for a few hours before you dive in?"
He managed to look reproachful as he settled for some chips. "Sorry. I'm hungry. You know running amps up my appetite."
He was giving Michelle a funny look, she still hadn't moved from the corner of the kitchen and her skin was still a bit red-tinged. Then he looked at me. I didn't miss the slowing of his jaw as he chewed over an idea. I could tell the moment it hit him. He still turns beet red when embarrassed.
"I uh, I got to go.... forgot, uh, forgot I told Sodapop I'd come over.... help with … something." He dropped the chip bag on the table as he hastily zipped his jacket, and was out the door before he heard me call him back.
Michelle was laughing and came over, wrapping her arms around me from behind.
"Let him go. And speaking of going, I'd better go too. I'm covering for a few hours tonight. But I'll see you tomorrow. Bye, Darry."
I turned and held her in my arms, releasing her only after kissing her lips so deeply I swore I could taste the gum she'd been chewing earlier.
"What are you doing here, kid?" Steve called out. "They close the library or something?"
I looked up, seeing Ponyboy traipsing into the garage. I turned down the radio. What in the blue blazes he was doing walking in this weather?
"Ain't you cold?" I asked. He reached in the fridge and grabbed a Pepsi, nodding as he popped the top and guzzled it.
"Yeah, but I'm fine." he answered before belching. I grinned.
"Yeah, right. You're gonna catch pneumonia, dip-shit." Steve put in.
"Not likely." He looked around. "Slow day?"
"Everyone's out doing their holiday shopping. Not too many people want an oil change as a gift." It had been a slow day, mostly just fill-ups or checking tire pressure. Only three people came in for anything more involved, which was clearly wearing on Steve's nerves. Sitting around didn't bother me, I got the same dough whether I was busting my balls to keep up or sitting on my ass in boredom. "Whacha doing here?"
Pony looked up, his eyebrows a little higher than normal. "Darry's entertaining company at the house."
Steve got it first. "Alright! Bout time he got some."
I looked at Ponyboy, waiting for details that weren't forthcoming. "You caught him in the act?"
"No. But they were both acting weird and got all quiet when I came in. I high-tailed it out of there when I clued in. Think he's gonna be mad at me?"
"Where they both still dressed?" Steve asked, interested for once with something Pony had to say.
"Ehh, don't sweat it. Just learn to knock first." Steve went back to the tool chest, putting all the wrenches back in order.
"I shouldn't have to knock... that's my house!" Pony squeaked with indignation.
Steve looked at me. "You explain it to him."
I rolled my eyes. "Don't worry about it, Ponyboy. Just... jiggle the door knob a bit if the door's closed."
"But Soda ...!"
"Look, one day you'll get it. Until then, just do it." Steve argued back. The whole thing was getting comical to me, and I had to stifle a grin.
"I do get it. I ain't ignorant..." he said defiantly, suddenly angry, "I just... ain't used to it." His voice softened to a barely audible whisper as his ears turned crimson.
"Used to what, Pone?" I asked carefully.
"Darry dating again and all. That whole scene." He tossed his empty bottle in the trash and leaned against the doorway, that far-away look in his eyes. I understood, it had been years since Darry had been out on a date, and it was weird thinking of him in a relationship again. Big tough Darry, hard as nails Darry, never letting his soft side out Darry; getting all goosey for a gal. Even for me, it would take a bit of getting used to. Especially since the gal was the nurse who'd seen every inch of my body - on more than one occasion. I chucked him hard on the shoulder and he grinned some, then together helped me clean up the shop.
An hour later, we headed home. I'd hoped Darry was done by then.
"Here, Soda. You too, Ponyboy. Merry Christmas, guys."
Darry handed me a small package, Santa faces all over it. I tore the paper off and opened it, a new pair of gloves tucked between sheets of tissue paper. Real leather. I tried them on, liking the feel of the lining inside.
"Thanks, Darry." I said with a smile. These weren't cheap. I was sort of surprised, expecting something a little less extravagant - like socks or briefs. Something simple. To say money had been tight was like saying fire was just a little hot. We were broke, no need to sugar coat it.
"Hey, tuff enough. Thanks, Darry!" Soda opened his box, a new pair of jeans being his gift. I was glad, he was running out of jeans good enough to wear out on the strip. All his other clothes smelled like the DX - even after being washed.
I handed Darry and Soda each a box. Darry was surprised. "You shouldn't have, kiddo. You should spend your money on yourself."
"Shut up and take it." I said, sitting back to watch. For once I could get them gifts earned with my own money, not given to me by someone else. Soda gave me a one sided grin, as if he knew what secrets I'd been keeping from him over the last week. I was pretty sure they didn't know, but then again, Soda could always figure out what his gifts were since the time we were kids. Always bugged Mom that she couldn't surprise him.
The look of shock, though, on their faces told me I'd managed to surprise them this year. Key chains with their names engraved on them sat inside small cotton filled boxes.
"Geeze, Pony. This is … wow." Soda said. I smiled even more knowing he was at a loss of words. That was a rare event, catching Soda so off guard. He palmed the keychain, then looked upset.
"Something wrong," I got up to check again. I'd checked the keychains over when I got them back from the store, did I miss something on the name?
"No, kiddo. Ain't nothing wrong." Soda said, holding the keychain tighter. "It's just, well, you know I ain't been back to work very long, I wasn't able to do anything this nice. I sort of feel bad about it."
I held Soda's package to myself, the paper not yet torn off. I shook it, knowing it wouldn't matter. Having Soda was gift enough. Nothing could replace my family.
"It's a pair of socks, Ponyboy. A sad, disappointing pair of socks," he said quietly, killing my surprise.
"It's from you, Soda. That's what's important."
The lessons I'd learned from the last year have taught me plenty, and those where the types of lessons no tangible gift could replace.
He reached over and tousled my hair. "Thanks."
"Enough of this. Who's hungry?" Darry got up, heading to the kitchen to start the ham.
"Hey Ponyboy," Darry nudged me during a commercial break. A Christmas show was on, and I was knee deep in it. I looked over.
"If you want to go to Hollis, I guess you can go. With Sodapop... on the 30th, provided Mrs. Nixon says it's okay."
Instantly, I forgot the movie.
"Really? You mean it?" I guess Darry understood how much I wanted to go, cause he grinned one of his rare smiles as he nodded.
"Yeah, I mean it. But you have to be back on the first. You still have school and Sodapop has work, don't forget."
I was so excited, I nearly hugged him. He seemed to understand. Then he turned all parental on me.
"And if I hear of any inappropriate behavior between you and a certain teenage viper, you won't be going back. Clear?"
I looked over at Soda standing in the kitchen, dishtowel slung over his shoulder with a knowing grin.
"Uh huh. Don't be testing my trust."
"Relax, Darry; I'll be with Sodapop. And Mrs. Nixon."
He got up from the couch as my show came back on, mumbling to himself. "Famous last words."
Calla Lily Rose