Disclaimer: I don't own The Outsiders.
It started with a cough.
He'd be laughing, or telling a story when he just broke off into a spasmodic cough. It sounded like it really hurt him, too, but he'd just pause for a minute and then keep talking. He was a greaser, born and raised, and if there's a take-away key for being a grease, it's that you don't show pain. Pain is a sign of weakness, and once you get tagged as weak, it would take an assload of work to get the tag removed.
I'd acted as if I didn't care, not until we were alone could I ask if he was okay.
He'd just smile, the smile that melted girls hearts—no doubt, and say he was fine, just coming down with a cold or something. But I didn't buy it, and I still didn't when he left school early a few days later.
I was looking for him that day, so I could walk him home after-school. We started walking together after his friends ditched him, or "graduated" as he told me. It was the reason I'd started coming to school regularly, anyway, so I could walk home with him, or take him to The Dingo or movies on Fridays.
Anyway, I was looking for him, when I was informed by one of his friends, Mark, I think, that he'd gone home in the middle of the day with his brother, because he'd "looked ill" and their teacher had forced him to go to the nurse. Like literally forced him. Ponyboy was probably the only kid on earth that didn'twant to miss school. But you know him; he's always so obsessed with school-work and terrified to get left behind in lessons.
Mark must have seen my concern for our friend, because he put his hand on my shoulder telling me that he'd be fine.
"Of course he will be," I answered a bit harshly, "And I ain't worried."
But Mark wasn't an idiot; he knew the score. He pulled out a green folder and a Spanish textbook. "Here, Pony asked me to grab his homework for him before he left. Do you think you could run it down there for me?"
I stared at the books that belonged to Pony before slowly grabbing them, and putting them under my arm. "What exactly do you know, Mark?"
Mark smiled, his golden eyes twinkling with that all-knowing gloss too many people had. "I don't know what you're talking about, Curly."
There was no hiding it, Ponyboy Curtis was sick.
His green eyes seemed dull, with light bags under them, while his cheeks and nose were slapped with a red tint. I wondered vaguely how I hadn't noticed earlier. He was wearing a shirt that was too big for him. Maybe it belonged to his oldest brother, the big, muscly one. But the pants were obviously his.
"Hey, Curly," he sniffled, after he greeted me. "What are you doing here?"
I held up his books, "Mark said you wanted to do your homework while you were sick, but I didn't believe him." I sat down next to him, and he scooted further away from me. Ouch, I thought, that hurt a little.
"You're gonna get sick, too, Curly. Don't sit so close."
I moved closer to him, despite his warning. I don't care if I get so sick I die tomorrow. If I have an excuse to sit this close to him, I'm gonna take it. "Ah, I'll be fine, Ponyboy."
Maybe it was my imagination, and it probably was, but I think he might've been blushing. Then again, there was no way I'd be able to confirm this; he was sick, his cheeks were red all the time. Besides, the odds of him feeling for me the way I feel for him, were so slim they didn't even exist.
He grabbed his Spanish textbook and the worksheet from inside the green folder and began writing his name and the date on the top, right corner. I noticed that his hand-writing was really nice. Kind of girlish, unlike any other greaser I'd ever known.
After a few moments of silence, and he found a stopping point in his homework, he glanced at the clock then back at me. "Do you think you could hang out here for a bit until I finish my work, so you could hand it in?"
He was asking me to stay longer? Of course I would, I'd stay the night if I had to. But a greaser can't sound so eager to agree to something like that, no matter what. Tim had taught me that; he taught me all the rules of being a greaser.
So when I answered it was calm, cool, collected, "If I must, Curtis," then I added a sigh, as if I didn't want to do it, but I would anyway.
He smiled, that amazing, heart-melting smile, "Thanks so much, Curly." Then he looked conflicted for a minute, "But I have to wait for Darry to get home so he can check my math. Do you think you can stay that long? I'm sure he can give you a ride home; it's getting too dark for you to walk all the way to the other side of town."
"Yeah, I can wait," Tim wouldn't be too happy with me for this, but he'd get over it. Especially if he saw his brother drop me off.
So, for the next hour or so I watched him write in a foreign language, solve long division, go over some notes he had for another class—history maybe, as well as go through half a box of tissues.
"So this is why you're so smart," he looked up from his notes, eyes partly amused.
"Yes, studying does that," and then he laughed, it was small, but it was more than I'd heard in a while. "I could help you study if you want."
I denied before he even finished the question, "There's no need to waste your time on a dumb hood like me."
He looked like he was going to say something else, probably to tell me that I'm not dumb or something like that, but someone came in, slamming the door behind them. It was one of his gang, the red-headed one with the side-burns. What was his name?
"Hey, Two-Bit," Pony greeted, I nodded in his direction. Two-Bit, I'll have to remember that.
"What's up, kid," he looked towards me, "Shepard," and I'll admit to no one but myself, that I smiled a bit inside. He'd called me 'Shepard,' just like hoods called my brother 'Shepard.' I know it shouldn't mean as much as it did to me, but it did. I think Two-Bit and I could get along.
That was until he sat next to Ponyboy, on the other side of him, and closer than I was sitting. What really killed me was that Pony hadn't scooted away from him like he had me.
"You're gonna get sick, Two-Bit, don't sit so close," at least he got the same warning I got, but why didn't he move away, too?
"Psh, I don't care. Get me sick, I'll do anything to get out of working."
Pony looked up at him, "Working? Since when do you work?"
Now I just felt out of place. There was obviously some sort of inside joke that I wasn't picking up on because I wasn't in their gang. The thought of joining them briefly passed through my mind, before I erased it. There were two reasons why I couldn't join the Curtis gang, or whatever they called themselves.
For one, I would be turning against my brother, my family, my friends, and I highly doubt they would ever let me live that down. Once in a gang, always in a gang. Those were the rules, I knew this.
And for two, the only people in the Curtis gang were good-looking guys (or pretty boys, which is how Ponyboy and his brother, Sodapop, were often described).They all were attractive in their own ways, whether it was muscle, toughness, or very pretty faces and nice hair. There was no way I could get in with my rough face, and shaggy hair.
The thought was terminated, never to resurface again.
Ponyboy was laughing now, harder than I'd got him to moments ago. This Two-Bit character was really starting to rub me the wrong way. Especially the way his arm was now draped lazily across the Pony's shoulder.
"So what's the Shepard kid doing here?" he glanced at Pony's open books, and took notice on his sprawled notes. "Y'all set up a study date without ol' Two-Bit?"
"You aren't even in school anymore," Pony answered, and finally, he scooted away from under Two-Bit's arm. This was long overdue. "What are you going to do on a study date?"
Date? Maybe he'd just slipped up, maybe he hadn't meant to say it, but he didn't show any signs of wanting to take it back. None at all, and I struggle to keep my smirk to myself. Pony and I—according to him—had been on a date.
There was a major difference between the Curtis brothers. Their personalities differed on many different levels, just as their looks did. Don't get me wrong, they were all very attractive; especially the second oldest, Sodapop, he was a real looker, with bright eyes and a smile that could make anyone do anything. Then there was the oldest, Darry, who had muscles that, without a doubt, reduced girls to mush.
I met Soda first, as he came home earlier than Darry did, and let me tell you, that boy was crazy. He started bouncing off the walls the minute his toes passed the threshold. And I literally mean his toes, he wasn't wearing any shoes. Pony had told me before that his brother didn't like to wear shoes, or pants.
Steve Randle, who I met before under different circumstances, followed Sodapop in, albeit with shoes and less enthusiasm. He was another member of Pony's gang, and I already liked him more than Two-Bit, for when he entered the house, instead of taking a seat next to Pony, he called him a smartass, and hit him over the head. Yeah, I was slightly angered by this, no one should ever hit Pony, but at least I knew that he wouldn't pose any kind of threat to me.
Finally, about an hour and four stacks of flash cards later, Darry returned and made a beeline for the restroom. When he emerged, squeaky clean and spotless, he entered the kitchen and sat down at the table where Pony had placed his math homework, with a sandwich and a cold glass of milk.
"Ponyboy, come show me how you got six for this question," he called a few minutes later.
Pony sighed quietly, then stood and walked into the kitchen. I followed him, deciding it would be better if I stuck with him: the one person I knew in a house I've never been in.
He was sitting next to Darry, who was munching on a sandwich, working out a problem on a blank sheet of paper. He stopped a minute, chewing on the misshapen eraser on his number two pencil.
"Oh, I see what I did. I didn't carry the four…," then he erased the number six on his work sheet and wrote in a ten.
"See? You can't make dumb mistakes like that, Pony. That could be the difference between an 'A' and an 'A-plus'."
"Sorry, Darry," he apologized. I stared at him. Was this seriously how he was talked to on a daily basis? The boy was too smart, too perfect to be talked down to like that. Maybe that was the reason he had little self-confidence. Someone always calling him a girl, or a smartass, or dumb; this all made sense… kind of.
His brother didn't respond, just went on looking through Pony's homework.
"So," Ponyboy started, his green eyes piercing mine. "Do you need to call your brother and tell him where you are, it's getting late."
I shook my head and tilted back in my seat, "Tim won't care," lie. Tim would crack my skull for making him worry for even a second. He really cared for Angela and me, even if he had a funny way of showing it. He cared about us in the sense that we were the only family he had left. Not like the Curtis brothers, who literally were all they had left as far as family went seeing as their parents died. Our parents were alive, but we didn't associate with them. In our eyes, they very well could have been classified as dead.
Pony nodded, so trusting, so naïve and I loved that about him. Almost as much as I loved those perfect green eyes he had.