"I felt hot tears of anger and frustration rising. 'I said I didn't mean to…'

'I didn't mean to!' Darry shouted and I almost shook. 'I didn't think! I forgot! That's all I ever hear out of you! Can't you think of anything?'

'Darry…' Sodapop began, but Darry turned on him. 'You keep your trap shut! I'm sick and tired of hearin' you stick up for him!'

He should never yell at Soda. Nobody should ever holler at my brother. I exploded. 'You don't yell at him!' I shouted. Darry wheeled around and slapped me so hard that it knocked me against the door.

Suddenly it was deathly quiet. We had all frozen. Nobody in my family had ever hit me. Nobody. Soda was wide-eyed. Darry had looked at the palm of his hand where it had turned red and then looked back at me. His eyes were huge. 'Ponyboy…'

I turned and ran out the door and down the street as fast as I could. Darry screamed, 'Pony, I didn't mean to!' but I was at the lot by then and pretended I couldn't hear."

When Ponyboy ran out the door, Soda and Darry ran out after him only to see darkness.

"What just…" Sodapop said after a few seconds of pure shock.

"Get your jacket." Darry interrupted as he quickly brushed past his brother.

"Darry, did you really just…"

"I said get your jacket." He repeated.

"Darry!" Soda yelped in a loud and panicky voice as he followed Darry into the kitchen. "You just hit my brother! Why did you hit him, Darry? He didn't mean to, he was with Johnnycake and he dozed off while they were talking! Didn't you hear him? Oh, man! Whatta we gonna do now, Darry?" "Shut up, Soda. He's my brother, too, ya know. We're going to go find him, so go put on your blasted jacket!" Darry said irritably. Soda quickly ran into the other room and back with his jacket. The two of them ran out the door and into the darkness of their neighborhood.

"Pony?" Darry called. "Ponyboy, I'm sorry!" he shouted again.

"C'mon, Ponyboy! We need to talk!" Sodapop tried.

"Glory, guys! Whatta ya'll doin' out here at 2:30 in the a.m.?" Two-bit shouted as he ran into the lot after them.

"Two-bit! You know where Ponyboy is at? He ran off after… after we had an argument…" Darry replied.

"No…" Two-bit said indistinctly. "Him and Johnny came over here after the movie… Then I left." Darry cussed under his breath.

"Hey, Guys? You hear that noise?" Soda said suddenly. They all stopped to listen.

"What the-" Two-bit started, but before he could finish, they all made a hasty run to where the loud siren uproar was coming from: the park. By the time they got to a sudden halt, they saw a bloodied body lying limp on the cement by the fountain with blood seeping everywhere. Darry made a funny noise in the back of his throat. Soda tried to get a closer look, but the police stopped him.

"Sorry, Kid. But this is a crime scene. Can't come no closer than that." Soda backed up into Darry.

"It ain't him, is it?" Two-bit asked from behind with a somewhat shaky voice.

"No, there's madras. Gotta be a Soc." Darry said. Then suddenly Two-bit gasped. Soda turned his head toward him.

"What?" Soda shouted.

"Dallas! Maybe he's with Dallas!"

"Where is Dally?" Darry asked.

"I think he said something about goin' over to Merril's place…" Two-bit quickly replied. The three of them ran past their neighborhood and into Buck Merril's. By the time they got there, they could already hear the wailing of the sirens along with the spinning of colors and the fuzz pounding on the door.

"Open up, Winston! We know you're in there!" They shouted. The door finally opened after a few minutes of hammering and waiting. Buck was standing there, drunk and dumbfounded.

"What do ya'll want from me?" He slurred cautiously.

"Get Dallas Winston out here this minute. I know he's in there!" The cop said loudly. Buck closed the door. After a few minutes of waiting for Dally, the cop raised his fist to start pounding again when the door opened. There stood Dally, dressed in only a pair of blue jeans. His face was red and imprinted with sleep marks, and he had a growing black eye. The cop grabbed Dally by the shoulder and twisted his arm behind his back.

"What did I do this time?" Dally protested.

"We're takin' you in for questioning. You know the drill, Winston. Don't struggle. It'll get you nowhere." The cop said as if he has given the lecture a million times. Dally just rolled his eyes as the cop put him into the vehicle.

"Hey, hey, hey! What's goin' on? Why are you hauling him in?" Darry said as he rushed over to the cop.

"He's done plenty of criminal act this year. We just need to question him about the murder in that park. No time… yet." The cop replied as he walked to the driver's side.

"You know what?" Soda put his hand on Darry's shoulder. "Pony'll probably be back in the morning. He needs time to soak it all in. It's been a rough day for the kid." Darry sighed in reply. They all walked to the Curtis household and sat down in the family room. Two-bit fell asleep, and Soda went into his bedroom. As Darry walked past Soda's room and into his, he paused at the doorway and listened. There was a soft, muffled, nearly soundless weeping coming from the large bed. Darry turned and walked back into his bedroom… to get at least five minutes of sleep.

The next morning, Soda, Darry, and Two-bit woke up to the door slamming. Darry and Soda ran from their bedroom and into the living room in less than five seconds.

"Ponyboy! I'm really-" Darry started, but stopped when he saw Steve walk in. Soda flopped onto the couch tiredly as Steve walked into the kitchen.

"Well, good morning to you too!" Steve said good-naturedly.

"Steve, you got any idea where Pony's at? We've been lookin' all night."

"Nup. But have you checked Johnny's?" Soda sat up.

"Johnny! We never asked him!" All four of the boys got up instantly and ran the few blocks to Johnny's house. Two-bit knocked lightly at the door. After a few screams from the inside, a big, fat, drunk man answered the door.

"What!" he said loudly and angrily.

"Mornin' Mr. Cade… would you mind if we spoke to Johnny real quick?" He looked at them confused.

"Who?" he asked dumbly.

"Umm... your son…?" Soda said.

"Oh, that little pain! I don't know where he is! He never came home last night. And I don't give a damn, neither!" Mr. Cade slammed the door in their face.

"Well, ain't he just some ray of sunshine." Two-bit said with a fake laugh. Darry walked over to the curb, sat down and put his head in his hands.

"Gosh, I guess I really screwed up this time, huh Soda?" he said sadly. Soda sat down next to Darry and sighed.

"No… we'll find 'em. We gotta." Two-bit and Steve sat down next to Soda and Darry. All of a sudden, Dally ran up them.

"Hey guys! How's it goin?" he said as if nothing had ever happened.

"Well gee, I dunno. Johnny and Ponyboy are still missing, there's a dead Soc lyin' in the park, nothing much. How 'bout you?" Steve said sarcastically.

"Well, the fuzz got some more clues on the murder." Steve rolled his eyes. "They found Johnny's knife buried about three yards away from the body. They kept on asking me if I knew where he went." Everyone looked at him.

"Well do you?" Two-bit finally asked.

"Eh… kinda…" he replied, a little less enthusiastic this time. Soda stood up and got close to Dally's face.

"Well? What are you waiting for? Where is he? Where is Ponyboy?"

"I told the fuzz he went to Texas-" Two-bit stood up.

"I can go then. I'll go to Texas and tell 'em to come back here. No sweat. I can be back in a few days if I leave now."

"No, man! I told that to the fuzz to get them to get 'em on a wild goose chase or somethin'! Those boys ain't in Texas!" Dally said.

"Where are they then Dally? Huh? Where in the world are they!" Darry said in an irritated voice.

"You all know I ain't gonna tell you nothing."

"Fine. Don't then. We'll find him ourselves." Two-bit stood up and walked off. Darry sighed and Dally went and sat next to him.

"What am I gonna do now, Dal? I hit my little brother, he is tied up with some murder, and now he's missing. Some guardian I am, huh?" Dally sighed next to him.

"Hey Darry, were gonna go home for a while and relax. See ya later." Sodapop said as he patted his brother on the shoulder. As they left, Dallas and Darry stood up as they walked toward the lot.

"You know where they are, don't you?" Darry asked casually as they walked on the streets. Dally just looked down as he walked.

"When you see him again… tell him that… that I'm really sorry about what happened between us. I should have never hit him like that. Please." Darry asked, but then they heard a car horn honk followed by shouting. Darry looked up and tried to see forward. The two broke into a run when they heard screams. They got to the corner and saw a bunch of Socs getting out of a light blue mustang. There were three of them, and Two-bit stood in the middle of them holding a busted pop bottle. One lurched forward with his fist and hit Two-bit square in the jaw. He turned around and hit the guy with the bottle right above the eye. Then that's when the fight broke out. Three against one. Dallas and Darry ran into the fight and off the bat started punching the little brats. They started to run after Darry hit one in the ribs so hard they could've cried.

"Two-bit! Are you okay buddy?" Darry asked worriedly as he put his hand on Two-bit's shoulder.

"Ya, it's cool. Just as little jumpin'…" Two-bit sighed as he sat on the curb.

"You know, we can't go nowhere no more. It's war…" Dally said right before he walked away. "It's war."

That night, Dally went to the lot. The Shepard's were sitting around smoking when he showed up. He sat on the curb next to their group and pulled out a cigarette when he noticed a smaller figure walking in the dark. As the figure got closer, he stood up and pulled the collar of his jacket up and under his ears with a cigarette in his mouth and his thumbs in his pant pockets. The figure approached him and smiled very lightly.

"Hello, Dallas. Thought I might find you here." A feminine voice said.

"Red? I thought you hated me!" Dal replied with a chuckle.

"Oh, don't think I don't. I just… really needed to talk to someone. You know, I feel like this whole thing is my fault."

"Well, it kinda is…" Cherry scowled at him.

"I was the one who told Pony and Johnny to sit with us… and I asked them to walk us home. Then Bob came and ruined everything…" Cherry's voice came in soft and shaky sentences. "I'd like to help you Greasers. I can do anything you'd like. I'm not exaggerating either! I will even testify that Bob and Randy were drunk that night and Ponyboy and Johnny fought back in self defense. Please let me do something…" Dally smiled slyly.

"You can be our spy. Tell us everything that goes on with your side of the turf." She quickly nodded her head.

"Okay. I can do that…"

"Hey, I could take you to the Dingo for a coke if you'd like…" Dally said smoothly.

"No thank you. But you can go to hell." She turned around and jumped into her tiny Sting Ray, then drove off.

On the third morning, Soda left to see Sandy before work. He came back home an hour later, sat on the couch and started smoking. "I ain't going to work today." He told Darry.

"What happened little buddy? You look sad…"

"Sandy is leaving." Soda looked at his brother. "She is moving to Florida with her Grandmother. I said she could stay here with me…" he shook his head. "She's leaving tonight." Darry sighed.

"Hey, I'm sorry. This must be really hard on you…"

"You have no idea." Soda replied. He turned and walked off into the bedroom.

At around 5:00 that night, Steve walked in. "Soooooddddaaaaa," he shouted.

"Blast it, Steve! Will you shut your trap already?" Darry said tiredly. Soda walked into the living room in only a pair of jeans and socks.

"Lazy bum. Where were you today?" Steve asked him. As Soda told him, Steve's expression changed from harsh to gentle. "Gee… I'm sorry man. That's too bad. Whatta ya gonna do?"

"Nothing I can do. What's done is done." Soda said in reply. Sodapop wept again that night. Darry walked in and sat on the bed next to him.

"Soda…" he started. "Soda, I'm so sorry this had to happen to us. I really am." Soda sat up and looked at Darry.

"Me too." They both fell asleep in that bed.

The next morning, Soda woke up extra early to find Dally. He ran up and down the neighborhood until he saw a tow-headed kid running down the way toward Buck Merril's. "Hey Dally! Wait up!" Soda called. Dally stopped and waited for Soda. "Hey Dal! How's it goin?" he asked cheerfully. "Eh. Nothing really. Just headed over to Buck's to get a few things. Wanna come?"

"Ya, sure… but I gotta talk to you man. This whole mess is just about killing Darry. You gotta tell us where he's at!" Soda begged.

"You know I can't do that, man. I have to keep my trap shut for them boys. Sorry." Dally replied as they walked up the stairs into Buck's spare bedroom.

"I know… sorry. I just can't help it! My little brother is out there all alone and- what's that?" Soda walked over to the corner of the bedroom and picked up a navy blue sleeveless sweater. "What is this? Dally, is this Ponyboy's?" Dally slightly nodded his head. Soda tore a piece of paper from the side table and began to write a letter:

Ponyboy,

Well I guess you got into some trouble, huh? Darry and me nearly went nuts when you ran out like that. Darry is awful sorry he hit you. You know he didn't mean it. And then you and Johnny turned up mising and what with that dead kid in the park and Dally getting hauled into the station, well it scared us something awful. The police came by to question us and we told them as much as we could. I can't believe little old Johnny could kill somebody. I know Dally knows where you are, but you know him. He keeps his trap shut and won't tell me nothing. Darry hasn't got the slightest notion where you're at and it is nearly killing him. I wish you'd come back and turn your selfves in but I guess you can't since Johnny might get hurt. You sure are famous. You got a paragraph in the newspaper even. Take care and say hi to Johnny for us.

Sodapop Curtis

"Oh and here's half my paycheck. Be sure to give it to 'em, alright Dally?" Soda said as he reached into his pocket and handed him a $10 bill.

"Sure thing Sodapop. I'm on my way to go see 'em in a little while here… but don't think of following me around town, you dig?" Dally replied.

"Ya, I dig. I'm gonna go home now then. Talk to you later, Dal. And… thanks." Dally nodded his head as he loaded his heater into his pocket.

A few hours after Dally had left, the gang decided to hang out at the Curtis's. Two-bit turned on the TV and a reporter's voice went on.

"Breaking news: There is a fire at the old church on Jay Mountain! There was a group of children playing in the church when it started. All children are okay, thanks to three brave young heroes; Johnny Cade, Dallas Winston, and Ponyboy Curtis." Three pictures were shown on the screen and the whole gang crowded around the TV. "All three are currently on their way to the Tulsa County Hospital. Cade is in critical condition, Winston is in an tolerable status, and Curtis is currently unconscious. More news on this tonight at 10. Next, we…" All of the boys jumped up as Darry turned off the TV.

"Found him!" Two-bit said as he started to jump up and down.

"Okay, me and Soda are going to go get Ponyboy. You all go home and we'll see ya'll later!" Darry said as he threw on a jacket. "Come on, Soda!" And they both ran out the door.

When they got to the hospital, there were plenty of reporters and cameras flying around everywhere. Soda groaned as he tried to get through the mob of people. When they got passed the mass of people, the two started into a run to the front desk.

"Where's Ponyboy? We need to see him!" Darry gasped in breaths as the nurse looked at him.

"And you two are…?"

"His brothers! We're his brothers! Can we see him now?" Soda said anxiously.

"In a moment. Let me see if he would like company. I'll be just a second." She said as she picked up a phone. Darry sat in one of the waiting chairs as Soda paced the ground.

"Soda, calm down! You're gonna put a hole in the carpet!" Darry said with a nervous laugh. They both looked as a fat man stood at the desk, talking with the woman. Soda finally sat down as the man walked away.

"Boys? Your brother will see you now. Just down that hall." The woman pointed towards the door. Soda bolted to his feet and ran halfway down the hall, not even bothering to wait for Darry.

"I leaped up and ran for the door, but it was already open and Soda had me in a bear hug and was swinging me around. I was so glad to see him I could have bawled. Finally he set me down and looked at me. He pushed my hair back. 'Oh, Ponyboy, your hair… your tuff, tuff hair…' Then I saw Darry. He was leaning in the doorway, wearing his olive jeans and a black T-shirt. He was still tall, broad-shouldered Darry; but his fists were jammed in his pockets and his eyes pleading. I simply looked at him. He swallowed and said in a husky voice, 'Ponyboy…' I let go of Soda and stood there for a minute… he had driven me away that night… he had hit me… Darry hollered at me all the time… he didn't give a hang about me… Suddenly I realized, horrified, that Darry was crying. He didn't make a sound, but tears were running down his cheeks. I hadn't seen him cry in years, not even when Mom and Dad had been killed. Darry looked down and turned away silently. Suddenly I broke out of my daze. 'Darry!' I screamed, and the next thing I knew, I had him around the waist and was squeezing the daylights out of him. 'Darry.' I said, 'I'm sorry…' He was stroking my hair and I could hear the sobs racking him as he fought he fought to keep back the tears. 'Oh, Pony, I thought we'd lost you… like we did Mom and Dad…' I listened to his heart pounding in his T-shirt and knew everything was going to be okay now. I had taken the long way around, but I was finally home. To stay."