Silence Speaks a Million Words

7.

I just have to tell myself to breathe. I'm not dying. I'm not. Even if it feels like it. Even if parts of me wants it, the part that is dizzy and nauseous and feels awful.

Nothing stays in their places - the toilet, the sink, the window, the shower, it all dances in front of my eyes when I look up. I'm sweating. My arm hurts. I breathe in through my nose and out through my mouth. I manage to stand, holding onto the wall, even if all I want to do is let myself drop to the floor again, crawl into a fetus position, forget the world, and just sleep. Get away.

I can't.

My brothers will be home soon and they can't find me like this. Somewhere in the dizziness that used to be my mind I know that.

My mouth is so dry. I have hurled and spit for an hour, ignoring the throbbing pain, not wanting to see it, but now I move my gaze, trying to focus on the place on my arm, just between my wrist and elbow.

Angry red and white and black. Bubbly. It smells. It stings, it doesn't look good. I take three steps up to the sink and turn on the water. Ice cold. It's funny- in the strange way, not the happy way- that water will help me now. I think it will help me but it doesn't. When I remove my arm, the mark is still there. It won't go away.

I force myself to wash my face too, and I take my toothbrush mug so I can drink some.

I just want my bed.

Somehow I end up in my room again and I know I have to hide what I did. The bottles go into the trash can, under the thrown away pictures I used to do, and my arm is hidden inside a long sleeved shirt. I crawl under the covers and close my eyes.

xXx

"Pone! Wake up! C'mon..."

Someone touches my shoulder and I force my eyes open. Soda's face is hovering over me.

"I can smell the beer, you know," he informs me. Gentle.

I close my eyelids again. "Go away."

"Like I would do that." He grips my upper arms, makes me sit. I groan. "Feelin' bad?"

I dip my head. "Yeah."

He chuckles softly, but there is only worry in it. "Look at me."

I meet his eyes. "Don't tell Darry," I beg.

I can see him debate with himself. How he suck in his lower lip, and how he tenses before answering.

"Ponyboy..."

"Please Soda."

"Fine... okay."

It's too easy. "You ain't mad?" I manage to say. He sighs.

"I'll go get you some water. And no, I ain't mad, Ponyboy." A hand touches my forehead. Then it's gone, and I lie on my back. Maybe it was just a dream.

xXx

"C'mon, drink some." He forces me to sit again, and holds a glass of water in front of me. I grip it.

"So, first time, huh?" Soda says.

"It ain't funny."

"No." He's quiet for a while. "So... what's goin' on, Pone?"

I take small sips of the water.

"I mean," Soda continues, "this ain't really you."

"You got drunk at thirteen."

"Yeah. On a party with friends, havin' a good time. Not home alone."

"Two-Bit does it alone."

Soda pinches the bridge of his nose. I put the glass on the nightstand, place my hands in my knee. The wound on my arm stings badly, but I don't show it.

"It was his beer," I say, embarrassed.

"Yeah, I figured."

I really hope Two-Bit won't get in trouble for this.

xXx

I should have known Darry would notice. He's aware of what's in the fridge and what is missing. The next morning, when Soda tells him I have a stomach flu, he already knows. He's angry at Soda, but oddly gentle with me. I wait for him to start hollering, but he doesn't. That scares me.

Why doesn't he shout at me? He just stands in the doorway, looking in as I hide under the covers, only my nose and eyes sticking out. Soda peeks in from behind, his face red, but Darry says nothing. He just asks me if I need an aspirin, but Soda has already given me a few.

They both leave and then they continuing their arguing. I wish they didn't. It wasn't Soda, it was me. It feels unfair that Darry blames him. I want to tell them to stop, but I have promised to not fight my brothers.

I get up anyway. I will never drink again, it wasn't worth it. It didn't make things better, it made them worse. It made Darry mad at Soda. It made me do stupid stuff.

Their voices are not high, but I hear them. I stop in the hallway, watching them. Guilt is a pain. My fault, my fault, always my fault no matter what I do. They both look at me.

"Stay home today, Pone," Darry says, still with that soft voice. What is he doing?

"Darry," I say, but then I don't know how to continue.

"It's all right, Pone. We'll talk when you feel better."

Is it even possible to feel better? But I nod, and then I turn around and walk to the bathroom. Inside, I close the door and lock it. Usually we don't - most of the time we don't even bother closing the door. But I can't risk Darry or Soda stepping inside.

In the mirror, my face is pale, and the dark circles under my eyes make me look freakish. My tongue is almost stuck to my palate. I drag the shirt over my head and look at my arm again. I remember Johnny, his skin after the fire, all bandaged up, but in some places you could see what it looked like. My arm doesn't really look the same. It's a big blister on my skin, with black edges. I don't know what to do with it, but I take our first aid-box and find a band-aid to cover it. That will have to do.

xXx

They both leave for work and I am home alone again. But not for long; the front door opens and Two-Bit steps inside with a grin. I drag my legs up and put my forehead on my knees. He knows.

xXx

I feel so bad. Two-Bit tries to nurse me, but he only makes me feel worse with all his stories of hangovers and parties and beers. I can't eat and that worries me. I promised to eat. But I just move anxiously between the couch and my bed and the bathroom, feeling so awful I don't even know if I care. My arm takes me off of things too. I don't know why I did it. In the bathroom, I rip off the band-aid to look at it again, and somehow it feels right. Why should I be unscathed? Johnny killed Bob because of me, and then he died too because of me, and Dally died because I didn't say anything when Johnny died. I just let him run. I let him be alone even though I saw how he broke down. I saw it, and I didn't do anything.

But now I do things to keep everyone safe. I have to.

"Pone, you all right in there?"

I nod, then realize he can't see it. "Yeah."

I take on my shirt and drag down my sleeves and open the door.

"Hey, I was thinkin', maybe next time-"

Groaning, I push myself past him. "There won't be a next time."

"There won't?"

"Why are you here? Shouldn't you be in school?" I turn around and his face shows the answer. I sigh. Of course my brothers asked him to come - they don't trust me.

"Thought you needed some company after the great experience."

xXx

He falls asleep on the couch and I'm sitting on the recliner playing with fire. I shouldn't. I suck on my cigarette and flicker with my lighter and think of burns and burning - how all the little kids made it and I, but Johnny died and Dally hurt his arm.

Like me.

Not like me at all. His arm was all bandaged up. I wonder if he hated me. Did he wish it was me instead of Johnny too? But he was glad he didn't kill me. He told me that.

I thought I broke your neck. I'm glad I didn't.

I put the lighter on the coffee table. Two-Bit snores with an open mouth. I crawl into a ball and close my eyes.

xXx

The scolding from Darry finally comes in the evening. Not that I like it when he's mad at me, but at least it's familiar.

"Feelin' better?" he asks me, coming inside my room. I sit up.

"A little."

He sits down next to me on my bed. "Did you know Dad always waited to the evening after before he told us how stupid we were?" he says, without looking at me.

"No," I mumble.

"Well, he did. One time I came home two hours after curfew, so drunk I couldn't stand up. Dad helped me to bed, put the covers over me and told me to sleep. I really thought I got away with it." He shakes his head. "The next day he grounded me for a month."

"Oh."

"Yeah. Oh. But I guess grounding you won't help since you hardly leave the house nowadays, so I'm putting you on cleanin' duty. And you have to make dinner every day for two weeks." He sighs, and then it comes. "Pony, what the hell were you thinkin'?"

But I can't tell him. He wouldn't understand.

xXx

I dream of water that night. The water is on fire, and on the boat is Soda and Darry. I stand on the shore, screaming at them to come, to come... they will die out there. But they do nothing.

The water is the fountain, and then suddenly they stand there, staring at me. I'm under water, but I'm breathing. I breathe under water.

xXx

I go there. To the park. I cross the street, the grass, and stop on the pavement. The blood is gone - I wonder if it was the rain, or if someone washed it away, and my heart thuds so hard it causes a buzz in my head. I raise my gaze and see it. The fountain.

I remember the hands that grabbed me and forced me down, held me under. I think of my dream, but it wasn't true. No one can breathe water. I tried it then, sucked in water into my lungs, and I coughed and vomited it up again. I remember that moment, when I realized I was still alive, when I realized another boy was not.

It was the first time I was close to death. I take a step forward, looking at the ice on the surface. The water under it is dark, almost black. Suddenly I'm glad that I didn't die that night, that it was Bob instead of me. Maybe that was supposed to happen, I was the one who should walk away alive. Because I did.

I reach out my hand. The ice is cold under my palm, and I knock it carefully. It's thin - it cracks, and water swirls up. Taking a deep breath, I force my hand down, down in the cold. I know what it's like to be drowning.


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