I saw him sitting on the curb by the vacant lot, eyes and head down. Johnny. He was always so sad. You could feel that sadness coming off of him, even when he smiled, which wasn't often. I thought about how different my friends were, how Two-bit was always smiling and joking and laughing. Everything was such a big joke to him. Nothing was a joke with Johnny. It was all so deadly serious. I understood that. I felt like that most of the time. My parents being dead, Darry always being on my case, the poverty, it wasn't a joke. But sometimes I liked not to care so much and to laugh once in a while. Things weren't really much of a joke to Dally, either. He was kind of serious in his own way, but unlike Johnny, he went after anyone who bothered him, or anyone who he perceived as bothering him. Johnny never did, not really. He took things, and that made me wonder about the switch blade in his back pocket. Would he ever really use it?
But I'd seen that changed look in his eyes after the beating by the socs. It was basically the same, still defeat and fear and distrust, but there was something else there, too. Something hard to define. Some kind of being fed up, being pushed too far, sort of. It was hard to pin down, but it was there.
He used to talk about killing himself before that, and now he talked about it but with more conviction. I'd get so scared whenever he mentioned it, thinking he'd really do it. Suicide terrified me, it seemed so dark. But it must seem like the only way out for Johnny.
"Hey, man, what's up?" I said, sitting next to him. It was sunny out, and the sky was a light blue. The sun felt nice. I turned my face up to it.
"Hey," he said, and I could tell nothing was too wrong with him right now, and the sad look almost went away. He pushed it away, I knew that, too. When I'd seen him sitting there he hadn't seen me. When you come up on people and see them before they see you, if they're alone, you can kind of see how things really are for them. Everything's a little bit of an act around other people. But I don't think greasers do that as much as socs do, the socs are pretty fake with each other, and probably to themselves as well.
I smoked and so did he, both of us cupping our hands against the wind. His jet black hair was heavily greased, like it always was, and practically gleamed in the sun. I saw the scar that was high on his cheek, shiny and straight, like some tribal scarring or something. His nails were all bitten down to the skin, and the skin around them was all raggedy. Nervous habit. I couldn't count the times I'd seen him gnawing on those nails.
I usually hung out with Johnny because it was convenient. Soda and Darry worked, Darry worked all the time, and when Soda wasn't at work he was pretty much with Sandy. Two-bit and Dally drank too much, and got into too much trouble. I'd drank before, too, but just got sick. Johnny didn't drink when he hung out with me, but he did drink, I knew it. I'd seen him drunk, stumbling up the steps to our house, puking over the railings of the porches of bars and pool halls. I bet he might become an alcoholic like his folks. It ran in families. But if he was hanging out with me he didn't drink. I knew something else, too. Johnny was 16 and he looked a lot younger but he wasn't really a young 16. He'd seen a lot, and he'd been through a lot. He thought I was kinda young, just a kid. Maybe I was. 14 wasn't so old. I knew everyone considered me to be just Darry and Soda's kid brother.
I guessed there was nothing I could do about that perception. And I was getting tired of thinking so much, of analyzing everything because it didn't seem to help. Sometimes it just made me feel worse. We finished our cigarettes and pitched them into the road.
"What do you want to do?" I said to him, and he thought about it for a minute.
"I don't know. Pinball?" he said, and I nodded. We stood up and headed over to the bowling alley, and he shoved his hands into the pockets of his jean jacket. I watched him play for awhile, listening to the little sounds of the pinball machine. He was pretty good. I wanted to just be a kid for awhile. I knew everyone thought I was so young, even Johnny thought it, but I didn't feel like a kid at all. Maybe that was because my parents were dead. I felt all the troubles of the world piling up on me, just this endless list of things. Poverty, violence, alcoholism, juvenile delinquency. All this stuff under these huge headings, so big there was no way to fix it or solve anything. I just wanted to be a kid for one day.