A/N: I don't own The Outsiders.
Curses erupted from his mother's mouth faster and hotter than lava spewing from a volcano, and little Darry wondered briefly if his father would have to wash her mouth out with soap. After all, she had done the same to him when he repeated that cool word his buddy Paul learned from his old man. He still remembered the punishment—a solid white bar of Dove soap. That stuff tasted like ... well, that was the word that had gotten him into so much trouble in the first place.
He grimaced as she let out another scream; Daddy'd have to deal with her shenanigans later.
"Darrel Shaynne Curtis Junior, if you open that umbrella inside this house one more time—"
He stopped at the threshold of the door. Quietly he admitted defeat, hanging the umbrella up on the rack beside his mother's bed.
"It's bad luck, honey," she explained—apologetically—through gritted teeth.
"Yeah, an' it ain't even rainin', Ma." Soda toddled over to her bedside and puffed his chest out like a protective little soldier. His mother would have smiled if it weren't for the constant waves of pain crashing over her.
"Oooh," she moaned, clutching the globe of her stomach, "Darrel, I swear to God, if you don't get me to the hospital right now—"
"I'm here, I'm here, I'm here, I'm here," Darrel Senior affirmed in rapid-fire, yanking his jacket on. With the strength of a tiger he swooped Darry and Soda up in one motion and rushed them into the car.
"I'm coming!" he snapped his head around, muttering a curse as Soda's seat belt refused to click. Uh-oh. Who'd scrub his mouth out now? Darry's mind flickered between some horrible options. Would he have to do it? He didn't know th first thing about cleaning. Besides, he wasn't even tall enough to reach the sink.
"Is the baby coming, Daddy?" Soda asked.
"Yes," he said breathlessly, patting Soda's stomach. "You two keep quiet and stay in here while I help Mommy. Got it?"
The three-year old beamed, and his father quickly kissed them both on the head, ducking back into the house.
The sky was darkening, but Soda bounced happily in his seat, and was soon babbling off his theories about how the baby must be a boy.
And Darry calmly tried to explain, as calmly as a six-year-old could, that another brother would simply get in Soda's way. He'd have to share Soda's toys, and he'd be the little prince, just like Soda was. Plus, he'd poop everywhere.
"Like a doggie?" Soda screwed up his face. "Eww."
"Like a doggie," Darry affirmed. "See, girls don't poop. They don't got to."
"'Cause they can clean themselves. Like a kitty-cat."
Therefore, by default, a girl would be a much better choice of sibling. When this beautiful argument concluded, however, Soda blew a raspberry at him, and Darry hit him in the arm.
Hours later, a swarm of nurses clad in pink crooned over Sodapop. He had big brown eyes, messy blonde down for hair, and had just learned how to flash the ladies a wide, toothy grin. Darry, by contrast, had big pale blue eyes—who ever crooned over pale blue?—neat brown hair his father had hastily combed back in the waiting room, and was very close to losing his first tooth.
He miserably pushed his tongue against his tooth as he heard the women swoon and giggle.
"Aren't you a cute little guy?" their collective voice seemed to say. "What's your name?"
"Sodapop Patwick." They giggled again.
"Who calls you Sodapop Patwick?"
"My ma and daddy do. They named me."
In the next room, Darry sat behind a wooden playpen, somberly pushing a train along its tracks. He felt tireder than he'd ever been before. Not only had he been right about two things today—it was starting to rain outside, so they did need the umbrella—but the other kids had left with their parents, and the nurses cuddled Soda so much he didn't even have time to glance at his older brother.
He had hardly heard the soft swish of the door against the carpet, but he knew the presence that had joined him.
"What's wrong, buddy?" his father said. "Why're you playing by yourself?"
Darry looked up, unable to hide his anguish.
"Daddy," he said. "Why does Sodapop got a special name?"
The corners of his father's eyes crinkled in a kind way. Even at six, Darry knew that meant he was thinking hard about something. He stopped to wonder why his father was so old.
"You don't think you have a special name?" he said softly.
Darry stubbornly shook his head.
His father crossed the playpen, his enormous legs carrying his towering six-foot frame easily over the wooden fence. He slowly reduced his height to a squatting position, looking straight into his eldest's pale eyes. Darry stopped fiddling with the train to drink him in. Secretly, he wished he would be just like him. He might have been old, but he was tall and strong, and he laughed a lot, and he knew the right things to say when he was behaving badly, and he smelled clean—of soap and leather—and he had a big kind white smile. Darry figured he wouldn't mind being old as much if he'd have those same qualities.
"You have the same name as me, you know."
"My name's Darrel, too. I named you after me. Do you know why?"
The boy shook his head.
"Because I know that one day you'll grow up to be big and strong, and when I'm all old and wrinkly" —his father hunched over and pretended to hobble on a cane, which made his son chuckle— "I can look at you and say that's my son."
"But you got Sodapop too."
"Sodapop didn't get my name, now did he?" His father grinned. "A long time ago, there was only one of us, and when you were born—then there were two of us."
His mind calculating something, Darry's little face soon fell.
"Now there'll prolly be three Darries," he said miserably. His father's face grew thoughtful. He was thinking. He'd know just what to say.
His face brightened again, and a wave of relief washed over the little boy.
"Well, let's just keep this between you and me," his father said. "You can help me name the baby."
Darry felt his eyes grow wide. A jolt of lightning rocked the world outside, and soon Soda could be heard beyond the walls with muffled crying.
Darry was terrified of lightning, too, but he felt far too excited now to cry.
"What do you say, buddy?"
Darry nodded vigorously.
"Is it a boy or a girl?"
"He's a boy." His father's grin seemed to illuminate the lightning. The nurses murmured whatever lullabies they could; Darry was sure Soda's head was buried in one of their pink shirts. He'd always been a tiny little kid.
Another boy ... Soda would not be happy. Or would he?
One of the nurses began singing All the Pretty Horses over the toddler's bawling. His mother used to sing the same lullaby to him at night.
Hush-a-bye, don't you cry,
Go to sleepy little baby.
When you wake, you shall have
All the pretty little ponies.
Blacks and bays,
dapples and greys,
Go to sleepy you little baby,
Hush-a-bye, don't you cry,
Go to sleepy little baby.
Daddy's boy, Mama's joy
Go to Slumberland my baby
When you wake, you shall have
All the pretty little ponies.
Pony ... boy ...
"Ponyboy!" The six-year-old beamed with an almost maternal pride. The baby'd have that name forever because he named him.
Ponyboy was nine; Darry was fifteen. Ponyboy had rushed into the living room redder than a tomato.
Darrel Senior, eyes wide, set his paper down.
"What's the matter, Ponyboy?"
Pony turned away. "Don't call me that."
"I wanna different name."
His father blinked.
"What? What happened?"
"Nuthin'," Pony said, rubbing his arms. "I just don't like my name." But Darry knew better. Last week Pony had come home with a shiner, claiming he got accidentally hit in the face with a baseball. There'd been a kid at school who was constantly putting him down, and for every night they heard his muffled sobs through the wall, he and Soda vowed to track that little snotnose down and dismember him. "Can't I be named George or somethin'? Or Michael, maybe."
"Michael's your middle name, pal," his father said. "Ponyboy's your first name. You can't change it even if you wanted to. It's printed on your birth certificate."
"Yeah, well—it's stupid."
"I think you got a good name, Pone," Darry said, feeling the heat rise to his face. Pony didn't like to show it, but the rims of his eyes were red and swollen. He'd have to kill the kid that made his baby brother cry.
Ponyboy crossed his arms, his face reddening even more because of his father's eyes on him.
"Only you think so."
Things went wrong. Very wrong. If Darry hadn't suggested they take a few hours off, that he could handle these two monkeys for a little while ... maybe it could have been different.
A couple of hours turned into an entire night. Then the sleepless night fell into morning when the knock came on the door.
The news came as a bucket of ice water to his face. His heartbeat flew like a bird thrashing against its cage, bloodied with each attempt against the bars.
Did they take them to the hospital?
They tried, sir, but they were dead on the scene.
What did they try to do?
There wasn't much they could have done.
Was there anything left?
... What can I do?
The way I see it, you're already of age. You could stay here and try to support a family of three, or you could send the boys to a home and finish your education ...
I see. Thank you, sir.
I realize this may be hard for you to—
Thank you, sir.
Darry closed the door, his head spinning. When Soda ambled in, yawned, and asked him with a wink what happened to the old lovebirds, he threw up on the carpet.
It began raining the day after Pony ran away.
Like an old friend, Darry lifted the umbrella from its hook-from the place where his mother had carried his brother.
"Darry," Soda called out, "umbrella—"
Darry snapped around.
"I'll open the umbrella in this house as much as I want."
There was a long silence between the two. A brief rumbling of thunder sounded, then the soft padding of rain seeping from the roof.
"I'm startin' to think maybe it's not an old wives' tale after all," he said quietly.
And with that, Soda sank into the couch.
A year later Darry fell into the same spot on the couch, his gaze fixed on the mail. He knew this day was coming. He just wasn't prepared to know when ... or how ...
The paper was wrinkled in his hands, and the ink began to run down the sides.
To: Sodapop P. Curtis
36 Freeman St.
Tulsa, OK, 74101
You are hereby directed to present yourself to Armed Forces Physical Examination to the Local Board named above by reporting at...
He suddenly felt a dripping in his lap, extending towards a shaking hand.
"See, Dar," Soda said, smiling and handing Darry the umbrella through the drizzle and his tears, "I took your unlucky umbrella."
Soda's funeral was small.
Steve sat ruminating in a corner, at once beautiful, broken, and untouchable. He'd thrown his medals away and was wearing a plain gray uniform. He leaned forward with his head in his hands and kept that position for hours; he was missing his left leg.
When the time came to place roses on the casket, he rose from his seat, stumbled forward, and with almost painful effort placed his at the very top. He stood there for what must have been an eternity, studying each groove in the wood. And then, slowly, he descended the aisle, and went out the door.
Darry crossed the sea of red carpet, feeling each step scrape against his feet like chains. All the things he couldn't say—all the I love yous he felt but never said—were staring at him in his own reflection on the polished oak. He looked just like his father, but was anything but. Soda'd had the kindness, the sacrifice. All Darry owned in this world now were his name, a collar pressed so tight to his neck he could hear his own heartbeat, and a pair of hard pale blue eyes—but what kind of tears seeped from pale blue?
Nevertheless, he felt ancient tears prick the corners of his eyes.
"Say hi to Mom and Dad for me, buddy."
Gingerly, he lifted the ancient umbrella from the rack, kicking aside a mound of dirty shoes. Kids rushing, dogs barking, seven new messages on the answering machine: he'd be lucky to make it through the week in one piece.
He needed a walk. That's it. Just a walk down the block.
Fup. The umbrella's wings furled open like a dragon's.
"That's bad luck, Dad," a voice echoed down the hall.
"I can open the umbrella inside this house any time I want to," he shouted back.
"How come you yell at me when I do it?"
His mind flashed to a smile filled with fear and dipped in rain.
"'Cause it ain't yours."
He stepped outside. The rumbling of faraway thunder dissolved his thoughts, and for once, he wasn't alone in the universe.
He extended his hand out.
"An' it ain't even rainin', Ma," he whispered.
What can I say? I'm addicted to crappy one-shots.