Disclaimer: I do not own The Outsiders by S.E. Hinton, or "The World We Live In" by The Killers.
Well maybe I was mistaken,
I heard a rumour that you quit this day and age
Curly left a depressed George in the apartment and made his way downstairs, feeling sick and guilty and like absolute shit. He needed to tell George what he had said to Emmy. He needed to fix that wrong. He needed to apologise … something he wasn't all that good at.
But first, he had to go to work. He didn't want to - he kind of hated his job - but when it was the only option going up against meeting Tim at Buck's, it didn't seem so bad. He'd much rather be working on cars than lugging car parts through a junk yard, but he'd take what he could get. A few years at this might get him a job at some garage downtown.
If he made it a few years. With Tim back, it seemed unlikely. He didn't know what kind of shit his brother would try and get them all into next. Electronics, weapons, drugs - he didn't have a fucking clue. And he didn't really want to know, either. He was sick of trying not to get arrested, sick of doing stupid shit for no good reason, sick of answering to Tim.
Especially sick of answering to Tim.
He'd gone the last year without doing anything gang-related, and he wanted to keep living that way. Gangs were out, and Tim needed to realise that. He never thought he would think that way, but the peace had been nice, and he didn't much fancy going back to the way things used to be.
Pulling out of the underground parking, he headed toward work. Maybe he could get out of the gang - or what was left of it. Just tell Tim he wasn't interested anymore, and maybe Tim would get it. Maybe he would be okay with it. Seemed unlikely; no one just got out of being in Tim's gang. And, considering he was Tim's brother, it was even more unlikely he'd ever be free. But he supposed he ought to try. No harm, right?
Wrong. Tim wouldn't think twice about kicking Curly's head in if he tried for an out.
Things hadn't been too bad after the Lucy Jane stuff. Tim still figured Curly had chosen the gang over the girl - he didn't know Curly had changed his mind and gone crawling back to Lucy Jane the very next night, nor did he need to - and because of that, things had gone okay. Tim assuming he still had Curly under his thumb, mixed with Curly's calm disinterest, had somehow made things smooth for a while. No arguing, no bitching, no disagreements at all.
It hadn't taken long for Curly to fall back into Tim's trap, though, and after a few months of just not giving a shit, he'd been doing those same jobs for Tim all over again. Stealing, fighting, slashing tires … and he was so fucking sick of it. It had been over a year, Tim had only been out one night, but he was already sick of it.
He wanted the easiness this last year had brought, he wanted to hang out with his girl without the worry of being called away, he wanted to have a fucking life that didn't revolve around a bunch of guys.
He wanted this brown Chrysler to stop following him …
Frowning, he glanced in his rear-view mirror again, wondering if he really was being followed, or if he was just paranoid because, now that Tim was back, shit was sure to hit the fan. It could be either, and he wouldn't be surprised no matter which it was. He tapped his thumb against the steering wheel, and tried to get a better look at who was in the car. He couldn't see a damn thing.
Jerking the wheel to the left, he made an unexpected turn into a deserted side street, just to see if the Chrysler followed. It did. So quickly it looked as though the turn had been unexpected for them, too. Curly sighed, hating this bullshit. Whoever it was, if they were following him, they were quick, that was for sure. Tim hadn't been out twenty-four hours, and already he had enemies itching to get to him.
Curly took it slow around the next few corners, not wanting whoever was behind him to realise that he knew they were following him. But they had to be; no one took this messed up, back and forward route, even if they were lost. He'd gone down the same street three times now, crossed another street twice, and was one street away from work. He had to either deal with it and go to work, or be late and try to get rid of these guys.
Eyes narrowed, he turned the corner and headed toward work. Another look in the rear-view mirror showed no one behind him, and he sighed. Maybe someone was just lost. It was possible. But, even as he thought it, he doubted it. Someone had been following him. He would probably never know who, but he sure hated it.
Most of all, he hated Tim.
Emmy stared at Lucy Jane for a long moment before answering. "Tim Shepard?"
The stunned silence was expected, and Lucy Jane waited it out. She didn't expect anything from Emmy, not really. She sure hoped her friend would help her out, but she didn't expect her to. Not after the last year. But, really, all she needed was an address. Surely that wasn't such a big thing to ask for.
Emmy opened the door wider to let Lucy Jane in. She stepped over the threshold and stood awkwardly in Emmy's apartment. Maybe a little jealous. She should have a place like this, with nice furniture and pictures of herself and her boyfriend. Instead, she had Josie and a dingy hotel and no boyfriend.
She looked at a photograph of Emmy and George, a twinge going through her that was definitely at least related to jealousy. Biting her lower lip, she turned to face Emmy.
Emmy frowned at her. "Is this about Curly?"
She couldn't even blame her for asking; for a while there, everything had been about Curly. Even months after their break-up, everything had still been about Curly. She shook her head. "It's not about him, I swear."
"Then what is this about? Why on earth are you asking for Tim Shepard's address?"
"I just - I just am."
"But you hate him! He made Curly to dump you in high school, remember? It's pretty much his fault all that mess happened."
Lucy Jane wasn't sure about that. Sometimes she blamed Tim for making Curly choose, sometimes she blamed Curly for choosing Tim, and sometimes she blamed herself for too many reasons to list.
"That's not important anymore," she said. "Please, Emmy, I know I've been terrible this last year, but I really need your help here."
"Do your parents know you're in town?"
"So you haven't even seen Harry?"
Her heart clenched at his name because, Christ, she missed that boy. She pushed him out of her mind; not thinking about him was easier - plain and simple. "No."
"Are you going to tell them you're home?"
"Shit, Emmy. Are you going to stop changing the damn subject?"
Emmy's eyes widened, and Lucy Jane let out a low breath; apparently Emmy could date a hood, but hearing her best friend curse was too much. Fighting the urge to roll her eyes and tell Emmy some of the things she had seen this last year, the things that'd had her eyes widening, she wiped her hands on her shorts. It wouldn't do any good to make fun of Emmy. Not only that, but, up until a year ago, those words had very rarely come out of Lucy Jane's mouth.
"Look, I'm sorry," she said. "I just really need some help."
"You've changed." Emmy sounded surprised when she said it, and somewhat impressed.
Lucy Jane shrugged, and they were both silent for a few moments. She looked at the picture of Emmy and George again, wondering when it was taken, who took it, how it was they could be so happy in it.
"Are you in some kind of trouble?"
"But that is why you need Tim's address, right. Because you need his help?"
"I suppose you could say that."
"But you won't tell me what this is all about." Not a question; Emmy was just stating facts.
Lucy Jane met her gaze again. "I've already said it too many times for it to still mean something, but I am sorry. For a lot of things."
Emmy's eyes flashed. "Curly has a girlfriend," she said, almost as if she wanted to hurt Lucy Jane.
Her chest ached a little, but she couldn't tell if it was because of Emmy's intention to hurt her, or Emmy's words themselves. She suspected it was a little of both. Emmy had been her best friend for years, after all, and Curly was … well, Curly was Curly.
Her entire relationship with him had been a mess, but there had been something special there, too. Something real. She missed him sometimes. Only those times late at night, or really early in the morning, when she could allow herself to think like that. When things were so bad that thinking of Harry or college or her relationship with Curly made life hurt a little less. Times when she was so scared out of her mind for herself and her sister, that remembering had to be okay, that remembering was all she had.
"I'm sorry," Emmy said. "I should've said that."
"I didn't exactly expect him to sit around and pine for me." At least that was true.
"But I still shouldn't have said that. It was rude and inconsiderate."
"It doesn't matter." And it really didn't. Curly would always be an important part of her past, but that was it. He was her past, Josie was her present, and she might not even have a future. She had accepted all of that, and Curly having a girlfriend was just life. He had moved on, and she wished she'd had the chance to do the same. "I'm not here for Curly, okay? I just need Tim's help with something really small."
She wished Emmy would just hurry up and agree already. This whole conversation was weird and awkward and uncomfortable. They hadn't spoken in over a year, Curly was not her concern, and she didn't even know Tim Shepard. Saying his name, calling him Tim, was unfamiliar, like she was talking far too warmly about a stranger.
She finally nodded. "Okay. I don't know exactly where he is - he just got out of prison last night, so you've got pretty good timing - but I'll try find out." She went to the kitchen where she kept the phone, and started dialling.
A sigh of relief fell from Lucy Jane's lips, and she sagged against the back of the couch behind her. He had just gotten out of prison the night before - that was good timing, and she hated to think what would have happened had she tried to do this a month ago, a week ago, two days ago! Of course, being let out just yesterday might make him less willing to help her, but she'd figure that out if it happened.
Emmy was talking quietly on the phone, and when she finally said goodbye and hung up, she turned to Lucy Jane. "He's crashing a few nights with Joey Hanson. I couldn't get an exact address, but it's on East King Street, over by the playground. Blue house, with a tire swing outside."
Lucy Jane fixed that to memory. "Thank, Emmy. I really appreciate it."
Not sure what else to say, she made her way to the door. Some kind of goodbye was probably in order, but she couldn't think of one. She didn't know what would happen in the next twenty-four hours. For all she knew, life could be great tomorrow, and her friendship could be getting back on track with Emmy.
Then again, for all she knew, she could be dead before nightfall.
"Can I tell anyone you're here?" Emmy asked, opening the door for her.
Lucy Jane smirked. "Who would you tell? My parents? Because I can tell you now, they won't care."
"I … no."
Why the hell would Emmy want to tell Curly? Why the hell would she think Lucy Jane would be okay with it? Why the hell would Curly even care? She shook her head. No, she definitely wasn't okay with that. "He doesn't need to know."
"You swear you won't say anything?"
Emmy didn't bother holding back like Lucy Jane had minutes earlier. She rolled her eyes in an exaggerated fashion. "Yes, Luce, I swear."
"East King Street, by the playground, blue house with a tire swing out front, right?"
"Okay, thanks." Lucy Jane left before Emmy could bring up her parents or Curly or whatever trouble she was in again.
"Christ, Shepard, what the hell happened to you?"
Curly, heaving a car door out of a pile of rubble, just shrugged. "Whaddya talkin' about?"
His boss, Jock, grabbed hold of the sleeve of his T-shirt, and made Curly face him. "Someone rough you up, kid?"
"Yeah, somethin' like that?"
Jock looked at him for a good, long minute, and Curly did his best not to fidget under his boss' stare. Jock had a son once. The boy died when he was seven in some boating incident. Curly didn't know the full story, only that it had happened, and that the kid would be his age now. He figured it was why Jock treated him so well, knowing full well that Curly didn't much like his job.
"You in some kinda trouble?"
"You sure about that? You need me to take care of somethin' for ya?"
Having boxed his whole life, Jock was sixty and in fucking good shape. At Al's bar downtown one night, Curly had seen him throw out a nineteen-year-old guy who had been getting a little too fresh with Jock's niece. Even after a year in jail, Tim wouldn't come close to measuring up against Jock.
He shook his head. "It ain't nothin' I can't handle."
Jock stared at him for a long minute, and Curly knew he didn't believe him. "Okay," he finally said. "Listen, we just got a call. Some guy says there's been a car parked outside his house the last two days - smashed windows, broken lights, probably had everything stolen out of it. You up for it?"
Curly nodded and Jock handed him the keys for the tow truck.
"Listen, kid," he said, before Curly could get away, "if someone's bothering ya -"
"It's nothing. Just got into a fight, is all."
"Yeah." He forced a grin. "You know what older brothers are like."
He took off before Jock could saying anything else, and jumped into the tow truck. As he pulled out of the junk yard, he thought about his fight with Tim. It had come from nothing - no argument leading up to it, no pissy attitudes making things tense, and no unhappiness at seeing each other. Curly hadn't been looking forward to Tim getting out and things going back to how they used to be, but he was still happy to see his brother.
At least until Tim had started flirting with Maria. Maria, being the sweet girl she was, hadn't thought anything of it. Curly knew better. Tim might not have been trying to purposely piss Curly off by flirting with his girl, but he was trying to fuck his girl. He had no doubt about that, and there was no way he was going to let that happen.
There had been no chance of it happening, even before the fight. That's what Maria told him, anyway. Panting from his fight with Tim, scowling at the fool he'd made of himself, and sulking that he still couldn't beat his brother at anything, Maria had wrapped her arms around his neck, pressed her body against his, and done that thing where she said she loved him.
"It's you I love, baby," she said. "Not your brother."
They had gone back to his apartment, and she had taken his mind off Tim for hours.
Taking the next left, he saw the car immediately, but frowned. Smashed windows, broken lights, just like Jock had said. But no houses around for it to be parked in front of. Even as he thought it, and climbed out of the truck, he knew in the back of his mind what was going on. The call had been a fake, someone had set him up, probably those same guys in the Chrysler -
That's as far as he got before something hit him in the back of the head.
"Fuck," he breathed, falling to his knees. His hands automatically went to the back of his head, feeling for blood and finding more than he liked. "What the hell?"
He looked up, wishing he at least had an idea as to who to expect. It took a moment for his vision to clear, and when it did, he grinned. A crazy, go-ahead-and-fuck-with-me grin. The same grin he gave the fuckers four years ago in juvie.
"Thought someone would've knocked you two off by now," he said. He was a fucking idiot and he knew it, but with these two, he just couldn't help himself. They were so stupid, that he came across as smart even when he acted like an idiot.
"Could say the same about you," Leon said, leaning down to stare at him.
"That what you here for? Takin' out Tim's little brother is a good idea. Not too original, though."
Bull flipped the spanner in his hands, and Curly chose not to look at the blood on it. "Ya know, for once, this ain't about Tim."
"Then who?" he asked, genuinely confused.
"Like you don't know."
"Yeah, I really don't."
"Bullshit," Leon said, and punched him in the mouth. "You think we're stupid, huh?"
Curly coughed. "Well, yeah, but I still don't know what the fuck yous are talkin' about."
"Just do yourself a favour, and stay the fuck away from her," Bull said. "Stay away from her, keep your hands off what she's got, and you might be able to keep both yourself and your brother alive."
Her? He had no idea who the fuck they were talking about.
Before Curly could answer, Bull whacked him on the side of the head with the spanner again, knocking him out cold.
Bless your body, bless your soul,
Pray for peace and self-control.
A/N: Thanks to all who reviewed, and Happy Birthday to Sam, my fantastic beta, and even more wonderful friend.