Second Chances - Chapter 1

Chapter 1

Hands shoved into his pockets, his face tilted down, a sixteen-year-old boy made his way through a rail yard. He was thinking about his parents. And because of how cold it was, he was also thinking of a thicker jacket. The one he wore now had been worn thin over the years, and the icy wind cut through him like a knife. But this was the only jacket he'd brought with him from home. And poor as he was at the moment, he couldn't afford a new one.
His mind drifted back to his father, and his late mother. Had she known what he was? Did she know just exactly who she'd married, all those years ago? That had been a real surprise. Meeting the toughest hood he'd ever seen in his life, and finding out they were related. That it was his father, no less. His dirty, good-for-nothing cheat of a father.
He kicked a tin can from his path, and winced as a piece of wood came down on his head. He glared up at an overpass to see a Mustang parked in the middle of it, with four older, well-dressed boys standing around it. Socials. He thought crossly. Perfect.
"Grease!" One of them yelled, and dumped the contents of a canteen down at him. The boy sidestepped the foul-smelling liquid, and darted away. I didn't ask for this. He stalked down the street, oblivious to the blue Mustang trailing him. I didn't want to have anything to do with him. He sighed, and kicked at a rock in his path. He caught a reflection in a trash can and froze for a second. What the...He squinted, and saw the car. Oh, man! He shot off down the street, only to feel a sickening rise to his adrenaline as the Mustang picked up speed.
"Hey, greaser!" One of them shouted gaily. "What's the matter?" The boy jumped a fence, turning away from the street. He didn't need this, not today. Not now. But, heck, when was the last time anyone got jumped and needed it?
He kept running, even as the Mustang disappeared in the maze of buildings behind him. He wasn't supposed to be on the North side of town. He didn't have anyone backing him up. They're gonna catch up. He thought, his heart hammering away in his chest. And when they do-
"Hey!" He collided into someone without seeing who it was. He rolled onto his back and jumped up, fear in his eyes. He breathed a sigh of relief when he saw who it was.
"Gage!" The dark-haired boy threw him a puzzled look.
"Jim?" He asked as he got up. "Where's the fire, buddy?" Gage Randle was about his age, just a year older. Gage's father, Steve, was best friends with Jim's Dad, and the rest of the gang. But right now, those things were the farthest from his mind.
"Gage, there's a...a blue Mustang..." He gasped out, trying to catch his breath.
"They followin' you?" He asked, searching the area over his friend's shoulder. Jim nodded. He turned just in time to see the Mustang turn to corner, and pick up speed. "C'mon. We're not too far from the DX." The DX was a gas station where Gage's father worked.
They bolted down the street, the Mustang gaining on them. Gage was a good runner, and had gone out for track at his school before he'd started cutting class. Though he wasn't officially on the team anymore, he was still in shape.
They reach the DX just as the Mustang pulled in front of them. Jim took a step back, and Gage's hand went to his back pocket, where his switch blade was. The Socs got out of the car, and started to circle them.
"Well, what do we have here?" One of them drawled.
"A couple of no-count hoods!" Another one said.
"Y'all know what a greaser needs the most?" The third one.
"A haircut and a bar of soap!" The fourth one. Jim swallowed hard, but an expression of hate and disgust covered his face. Gage wore a similar expression.
"Y'all outt'a your territory. You better watch it." Gage threatened.
"Or else what?" One Soc snapped. "You're gonna get your daddy on me?"
"You've got some brains after all." A new voice said, and the Socs whirled around. "It'd be a shame to bash them outta ya'll." There stood Steve Randle, tire iron in hand. Steve was a tall man, and he wasn't scrawny. The Socs took one look at him, and a few of them started to draw their blades.
"We could call the cops right now, report you for trespassing'." Sodapop Curtis walked up, and Jim's heart slowed down a bit more. Soda was about an inch taller than Steve, and he posed more of a threat. The Socs climbed into their car, sending their would-be victims venomous looks, and were gone.
"Hey, Gage," Steve said, looking the two over. "What're you two doin' pickin' fights with white trash like that?"
"They were following Jim, and he ran over me. Literally. So we thought you guys could help us out." Gage said. Soda turned to Jim.
"I thought you were with your Dad." Jim grimaced, and tried not to roll his eyes.
"He's over at Buck Merril's place." He said, mostly to himself. "Didn't want me tagging along with him." Buck Merril was bad news all over. He lied, he cheated people, and he felt free to pinch any girl that came his way. Jim's father often visited his house, whether to catch some sleep or to make a few bets, but he'd told Jim not to get within a mile of the place. These instructions made sense coming from anyone but Dally. If Jim got mixed up in anything Buck was doing, Dally would've been the first to admit pride, if anything.
Jim waited around with the Randles' and Sodapop until they closed up the station. The whole gang lived in roughly the same neighborhood. The Curtis' brothers lived within a block of one another, having never been able to split up completely.
Soda's house was the closest to the DX. He and his wife, Elise, and their sixteen-year old son, Rontamel, lived in the split level at the end of the street. Elise had a green thumb, and as a result, the front porch was so crowded with potted plants and the like you could hide an entire car from view of the street.
The Randles lived just a few houses down. Steve and his wife, Carol, and their two kids, seventeen-year old Gage and eighteen-year old Chevy, had shared the two-bedroom house ever since Chevy had been born. The kids were hardly ever at home during the day, and Steve worked weekends sometimes, which left Carol all to herself. All the better for her to concentrate on her housecleaning.
Next in line was the home of Darrel and Ray Curtis. His wife had died ten years before, leaving him to raise their daughter, Rachel, all on his own. Ray was a nice enough kid, and she liked tagging along with the boys in the gang wherever they went, if she could find them. Gage found this extremely annoying, but Jim usually let her find him. Ray was fifteen.
Three houses down was Ponyboy's place. Ponyboy had dated Cherry Valance on and off over the years, but he was still single. Whenever anyone needed a place to stay for the night, his door was always open.
On the next street over, Two-Bit Mathews, Johnny Cade, and Dallas Winston lived within jogging distance from each other. Jim knew their kids well enough. Two-Bit's twins, Mickey and Minnie, had just turned fifteen. Jason and Bonny Cade were different ages, Jace being fourteen and Bonny having turned seven the month before. Jim and Jason hung out a lot, and they were the best of friends.
Even after they passed his house, Sodapop kept walking. He and Steve joked around, remembering the days when Soda had dropped out of high school to work full time at the DX gas station at seventeen. Gage walked behind them, and Jim trailed along like a lost puppy. Images of that Mustang were stuck in his mind, like a festering cut. Those Socs were always giving them trouble. They'd stalked Ray once before, only to meet a very ticked off Darry one day, which ended that fa├žade. They'd jumped Jace once, and he had a scar on his right cheek as a reminder. And as for himself? Jim had been avoiding them ever since he'd arrived three months prior.
"You okay, Jim?" Gage asked as they approached the Randle house. Jim sighed.
"Yeah, I guess." Soda put his arm around his shoulders, and nodded his head at Steve.
"Y'all go ahead. I'm gonna walk the kid home." Steve muttered something under his breath, but Gage waved, and darted up to the front porch. They walked in silence for a few moments, which left Jim feeling uneasy. Soda was never quiet. Not unless something was wrong. "'re things with you and Dally?" He finally asked. Jim rolled his eyes. That's why he wanted to walk me back. It had come as a shock to the gang that Dallas had ever had a kid. And they were always curious about the totally non-existent relationship between father and son.
"We might be related by blood, but that's about it." He said, hunching his shoulders a little more.
"You look like him, you know. When you get mad. Your eyes." He said. Jim frowned, puzzled. He'd never noticed.
"Really?" Soda nodded.
"When you're mad, you get like Dally. Cold look in your eyes, hard as stone." He turned to the boy. "You don't have his hair, though. Or his personality." Dally had blond hair, and his personality reminded Jim of a lynx. Dangerous and mean.
"Those I get from my Mom." He said, a little lower. Losing his mother had been hard. Seeing her fade away like he had was even worse. Scarlet fever had struck Benbow, leaving few if any survivors. He was one of the lucky ones. I don't feel lucky, he thought bitterly.
"Is he still coming home late?" He shook his head.
"Doesn't come back. Spends the night at Buck's." Soda sighed.
"You know he cares about you, right?" Jim gave him a look.
"Psh, yeah right! Wake up, Sodapop. He doesn't give a hang about me, never has, and he never will. He ran off on us when I was eight. Hasn't called or anything since." He bit back his tears as he muttered, "He doesn't want anything to do with me."
"Well, what about the gang, huh? We care about ya." Jim shook his head.
"You've got your family to worry about. Steve's got his. Same with everyone else, except maybe Pony. But he's got his job to worry about." Pony worked part time at a high school as a teacher. "As soon as I turn eighteen, I'm out of here. Forget all this stuff, maybe go and find some friends of mine." He blew his bangs out of his eyes. "If I don't get jumped first." They were getting closer to Dally's house, and the lights were on in the living room. Dally's back.
"Well, if you ever need a place to stay, Ronto would probably be happy to let you share his room." Rontamel was another close friend of Jim's. "Take care, kid."
"You too, Sodapop." Jim said. Soda started off back to his house, and Jim paused outside the chain-link fence. He knew what was probably awaiting him inside. Nothing new, anyway. He pushed open the gate, stalked up to the front door, and went inside.
Before he was even fully through the door, he was engulfed by the smell of cigarette smoke. Out of all the guys in the gang, Dallas was the only one who was still smoking. Soda had never really been much of a smoker anyway, and had quit for his health. Steve and Two-Bit had quit because of their wives. Ponyboy had quit in hopes of making track all through high-school, and hadn't picked it up since. Johnny had quit for his kids. Darry had resolved not to smoke, in case Ray should pick up the habit. But Dallas was still a smoker.
Dally was on the couch, watching some old black-and-white movie. Jim waited a moment, then slunk into the kitchen. Dallas remained silent. It was like he didn't even notice Jim.
"Uh...I ended up at the DX." He said as he opened the fridge. But, just as he'd expected, there wasn't anything inside. Nothing in the freezer, either. Why would there be? Dally ate out all the time, and scarcely ever brought anything back.
"Why'd ya go there?" Dallas asked, though his tone indicated he couldn't care less. Jim thought for a moment.
"Ran into Gage. A couple of Socs were giving him some trouble, so we went by the DX. Steve and Soda scared them off."
"Don't you have a blade?" Dally asked, annoyed. Jim looked down at his scuffed-up boots. He'd forgotten about his switch blade, and had left it in his room. But if he admitted that...
"Then why the heck did you need Soda's help?" Jim didn't say anything. "You're always kissin' up to Sodapop." Dallas grumbled. Jim waited for a few more minutes, but Dally didn't have anything else to say, so he went to his room.
Dallas jockeyed for the Slash J. a lot, as well as riding saddle bronc in the rodeos, and he made good money from both. He'd finally started renting a house, and he was actually paying rent, but Jim wondered how long it would last. Dallas never stayed put for long.
Since he'd moved in with him, Dally had been in and out of jail twice. The first was for grand theft auto. The second was for a knife fight with a Soc. Each incident had landed him a month in jail, since no one could prove he'd taken the car in the first place, and the judge had accused him of merely disturbing the peace for the fight.
Jim dropped onto the bed, trying to ignore his stomach. He hadn't had anything to eat since lunch, and even then it was only a bag of popcorn. Heaving another sigh, he turned to his window. He could get breakfast at one of the Curtis' in the morning, or even the Cade's. Johnny's parents had neglected him as a kid, so he knew what it was like. But Dally had been his hero back then, and he still admired him. Trying to talk Johnny into seeing just how hateful Dallas really was would be like telling a little kid that Santa Clause didn't exist. It'd break his heart.
The boy pulled a small, oval-shaped locket out of the bag near his bed. Engraved on the back were the initials 'S.H'. Sara Hawkins. He opened it, and watched the array of holographic pictures that played out before his eyes. Happy days gone by. He smiled as he remembered each one. He closed the locket, and put it away, careful not to leave the chain hanging out of his bag again. Dally had seen that this morning, and had almost slipped it out of the bag to see what it was. He'd been stopped, however, by Jim's complaints over the amount of hair oil he'd had to put in his hair.
Greasers all had long hair, and most gelled it back with hair oil. Dally made sure Jim fit in with that category. He was glad to have his hair long again. It brought him some comfort. But the hair oil was new to him. It hardly made any difference if he rolled out of bed in the morning and neglected to put it on. Dally would actually force him to hold still, and would do it for him. Jim's scalp was always smarting after he did it, though, so he usually did it himself. Dallas always pulled his hair too hard.
Greasers also wore dark clothes, black, brown or green. Beat-up boots or sneakers, leather or denim jackets. They dressed like hoods. Because most greasers were hoods. Like Dally. And Jim had pretty much outgrown the clothes he'd brought with him, and didn't exactly have money to pay for any new ones. Dally either didn't notice or didn't care, but either way he did nothing to help the situation. The Curtis brothers had noticed, however, and had given him some clothes they'd had at his age. Charity, but who cared? He had clothes to wear, that was the main thing. He preferred Soda's to Pony's, though, because they were bigger. Darry's were too big.
Between the hair grease and the clothes, he wouldn't have recognized himself. He looked nothing like the small-town Montressian boy he'd once been. He doubted his own mother would have known who he was.
He hadn't chosen this life style. Dally's police records alone were enough reason to put him in a boy's home until he turned eighteen. And without a doubt, that's what Dallas wanted. But every possible home the judge had looked at had been full. He had nowhere else to go.
So he'd moved in with Dally.
I'll get out of here, soon. He thought as he drifted off to sleep, a freezing wind blowing through the broken open window. As soon as I'm eighteen...I'll go.