Disclaimer: I do NOT own the Outsiders.

A/N: Sorry for the delay. Hope you enjoy the new, longer chapter! Thanks for reading.

Chapter 5:

When I woke and pulled off my covers, I instantly regretted moving. Ever. My legs were still sore from the previous day. The shoulder the tough guys had wrenched out was still sensitive too, but now so were my ribs and one of my knees from landing off the bike. The knee was badly skinned and my ribcage was one ugly bruise. I cleaned the wound on my knee with peroxide and put a band aide on it, opting for long pants as I tugged on my work uniform. Thankfully, the house was quiet, everyone else feeling pretty poorly themselves besides Pony, whom had already left. Darry gave me a ride to work.

I didn't dare hop out as I usually did, but climbed down carefully. "You okay?" He asked knowingly.

I nodded.

"Have a good one."

"You too; thanks for the ride."

He nodded and drove off. I went inside the diner, breath held. I was half expecting to see the guys waiting for me there, but they weren't in yet. I thought of calling Kevin to hang out there until I got off, but he wasn't an early riser. With any luck, neither were these punks, since I came in for brunch rush and left after lunch rush ended on Saturday. Maybe they would assume I always worked dinner and come in after I left.

"Morning, Lois."

"Thank god you're here, El!"

At this, I laughed aloud. Yep, I was definitely thankful I had a job. It was nice to be appreciated. For the next couple hours, I hurriedly took and delivered orders, refilled glasses, wiped up spills, smiled, and pocketed tips. And the harder I worked, the more I stayed busy, the faster the time passed. I did, however, keep eyeing the door every few minutes, waiting for those boys to come in the diner.

"Looking for someone?" Lois winked.

I shook my head.

"Something on your mind, kiddo?"

"Just a paper I have to write." I lied. Well, it was not entirely a lie.

"Not anything about your dad?" She raised an eyebrow.

"Lois, the first day he showed you up, you said the cops would recognize him."

"Yep."

"Well, it's just a kid from school said something about him having killed someone. You know anything about that?"

"I do. But do you know who would know everything about that?"

"Who?" I wondered aloud.

"Him." She gave me a stern look.

Signing, I left the kitchen. She was right. But this was not an easy conversation to have. My curiosity was killing me though, so I decided to at least ask why someone would call him a murderer when I dropped by tonight. If I dropped by tonight. I wasn't sure I would really feel like it.

Before I knew it, things were winding down in the diner and the decision loomed nearer.

"Hey there." A familiar voice surprised me at the bar.

"Hey." I greeted Ponyboy Curtis.

"Thought I'd grab some lunch. Couldn't think it of anywhere better. Hope it's not embarrassing."

"No it's fine." I couldn't help but be a tad relieved he was there. After all, the guys had said they would wait until I was lone, most likely afraid of him since they were convinced he was a killer and all. I glanced at the door again. "What can I get you?" I asked said killer politely.

"Just a cheeseburger, please. You had any more trouble here recently?"

I shook my head, glad he had specified 'here', since I was such a terrible liar. I went about my business.

"Thanks." He said when I brought him his plate. The place was clearing out by then. I couldn't avoid talking to him.

"You're welcome. How'd the moving go?"

"Slower than I expected. Still working on it."

The fateful ding sounded at last and my head shipped towards the door. The boys smirked at me as they stepped in the door. Pony turned to look.

"Oh no you don't. Not in my place." Lois called before they even made it to a table. They looked disappointed as they left, except the one. He was grinning at me wickedly.

"Want me to give you a ride?" Pony offered. I gave him a small smile, but shook my head. I'd rather wait them out.

"Go ahead, I'm not paying you overtime." Lois urged with a wink.

"You did say you'd come over after any way. Don't know where it is on your own yet, do you?" He tried somewhat tentatively.

I rolled my eyes and tugged off my apron in defeat. It was painfully awkward following Pony out to his truck, but not as painful as it would have been without him I hazarded a guess based on the looming guys at the end of the street. I glared in their direction. If they looked disappointed before, it was nothing to how they looked at that point—like a dog who had just had a juicy steak pulled out from under their nose as the last minute, leaving their teeth to clamp together with snap.

"You okay?" Pony asked, following my glance and giving the boys a dark scowl. I jumped, forgetting he was there. He held the passenger door open for me, waiting. I wasn't used to that, but I clamored into the cab of the truck in the least graceful manner possible, wincing.

"Shoulder still bothering you?" He asked as he buckled himself in. I began to make my head, but then tried to turn it into a nod half way through. He was clearly suspicious, but aside from looking me up and down, he let it go. I was grateful for that. But that was no paper topic.

I could imagine the look of horror on my teacher's face as he read it: I'm thankful my prodigal father doesn't ask too many questions, or I'd have to explain about the violent group of guys harassing me or that my best friend and I were in a motorcycle accident while running from the cops. And that would be an awkward conversation.

He must have smiled my smile. "I'm really excited for you to see the house." He said. I tried to smiled, but I don't think I did a very good job. The rest of the ride was quiet, but short.

The house was cute, a small place not far from Darry's and not much bigger, but the yard was nicer and the neighborhood a little better too. It had green shutters and some flowers in the front I noticed as we pulled up next to a freshly painted mailbox with the name Curtis on it.

I climbed out of the cab was he did, landing on my knee which buckled immediately under me.

"El!"

"I'm fine." I mumbled, my eyes watering. He wrapped an arm around me to help pull me up, but it squeezed my ribs and I couldn't help the garbled noise that escaped me. "Damn it!" I breathed, furious with myself. I couldn't make my leg do I wanted my eyes stop being ridiculous and allow me to see clearly or my mouth from making me sound like an attention seeking wuss.

"Hey," He said softly. "Was this those boys again?"

His voice was kind, but deep. He was serious.

"Let me see." He commanded. I shook my head.

He sighed as I tried to jerk away but he wrapped an arm around my shoulder so that I only retreated further into the crook of it. "Let me see." He repeated. I fought and wriggled for a moment, but he won and pulled up the sleeves of my sweater to check my wrists. Nothing.

"Shoulder still bothering you?" I nodded. "What else?" he tired. I said nothing. I didn't want Kevin to get in trouble.

Gently, he placed a hand on my knee. I tried to keep a straight face when he squeezed the hurt one. Sighing, he pulled my hair back from my neck to inspect it. Nothing.

"Let's go inside." He said as the wind blew my hair all over my face. It was getting cold out. I followed him through the little front gate, walked up to the porch where he opened the front door for me. I stepped in and surveyed the living room strewn with boxes.

"You like it?" he asked, a little excited.

"Well, yeah. So what can I do?"

"For starters you can help me shelve the bookshelf."

We sat on the floor and went through a few boxes of books, not talking really. I didn't mind as walking or talking while breathing was growing increasingly difficult. I read the spine of each one trying to picture where he bought it or who gave it to him. Occasionally I opened one out of curiosity and read a little.

"You know you can borrow those whenever you want." He said, watching me.

"Thanks." I said, setting the one in hand back on the shelf. It didn't make any sense to me.

"Sorry we have to sit on the floor. They are bringing the furniture tomorrow. I found a great consignment shop. Wow you are already done with your side. You're a fast worker."

I shrugged, appreciating the compliment. I was getting hot working inside where the heat was on, so without thinking I tugged off my sweater as I grabbed the next box. He shocked me so much I dropped it.

"What the hell? Those bastards! When did this happen?" he shouted. I froze. My shirt must have been pulled up and exposed the bruises. I really didn't know what to do as he stood next to me with one hand lingering gently on my uninjured shoulder. In a sick way, his concern felt…nice, but then he said something made any inklings of warm, fuzy feelings turn to ice.

"I'll kill them!"

"It was an accident." I said blurted.

"An accident? You're black and blue. It's a wonder if those ribs rent cracked and you're limping! I've noticed."

"No, I mean it wasn't the boys. Kevin wrecked his bike."

"A motorcycle? Who is Kevin? Your boyfriend? Two Bits son?" He shook his head repeatedly as if trying to get out the confusion.

"He's not my boyfriend!"

"Well, from what I heard he wishes he was." He said, placing his hands on his hips as he calmed a little.

"What?" It was my turn to be confused. I went on, "He felt really awful but it wasn't his fault, hit a bump, bike went out control. Lucky for me he had insisted I wear his helmet and we were both wearing a lot of clothes because of the weather."

"Well, you need to be careful, and if Kevin isn't you need to not ride with him. You both need to be safer. And next time you get hurt, tell someone. It could be serious."

"Ok I will." I picked my box up, but he took it from me, carrying it back to where we were sitting as we worked.

"I still don't understand why you didn't mention being hurt if you weren't doing anything you shouldn't have been…" He was skeptical.

I changed the subject. "You have a lot of these." I said, secretly pleased at his mini library collection. He grinned broadly.

"Yeah." He sounded proud for the first time.

"So you went to college I guess since you're a teacher…"

He coughed and cleared his throat a little. This was the first time I had asked about something that happened while he was away.

"Yeah I did." I saw him watching me out of the corner of his eye. "In another state. I had a scholarship and I'd saved some money and Darry gave me some of his savings even though I fought it, but it still took me a while to work my way through. Your mom insisted I go; said I'd do more good with a degree than I would hanging around in a town where no one would hire me..." he trailed off and I was thinking: because you are a killer?

"Anyway, I Had to borrow some from this program that lets you repay by teaching in really isolated areas. So I did that for a few years too. That's why it was hard to contact me at first. I had one place the only way to get to was by plane or boat—"

"You couldn't call?" I snapped. His reason for leaving made sense, an education then work but it didn't make sense to just act like he didn't have a kid. He looked as if I'd slapped him, so I averted my eyes, realizing my tone had been harsher than I meant it to be. 'Not that I care,' I should have said.

"Sorry," I mumbled, sorry for embarrassing myself and nothing more.

His response took a second, like he was choosing his words carefully, but it came out quickly as if on its own, surprising me. "I wanted to take you with me." I looked at him. "Your mother wouldn't let me. I knew you needed her. I meant to come back sooner any way. I really did, but things happened. Things I can explain."

"Why did you leave her?"

He seemed surprised by that question and that angered me. "I mean if you'll just leave your wife—

"El, I admired your mother very much and I'm glad we made you, but we were never married."

"W-what?"

"Did someone tell you that?" He asked. My mouth sort of opened and closed like a fish. Actually, no. no one ever did say that specifically, but no one said they weren't… I thought of all the names my mom went by….Miss Valence. Slowly, I shook my head. Everyone had conveniently failed to mention that.

"I'm sorry." He said, recognizing my shock. Why wouldn't I be? Why had no one said anything? They didn't want me to know my mother was an unwed, single mother? Didn't want me to know I was born out of wedlock? So he hadn't left his family, not really. He'd left me, just me. He'd left behind being a father for an education and a job. And the worst part was, I couldn't blame him. The poor guy didn't come back to grieve her, he'd come back because someone had to responsible for me.

I knew my eyes were watering again, but I didn't care. I hated the way he was looking at me. With pity. That's why he came back. That was it. I didn't want to live with that look the rest of my life. "Can I have some ice? My knee hurts."

"Sure. I'll be right back." I could tell he saw through my lame excuse, and he took longer than necessary to fetch the ice giving me time to wipe me eyes.

"We should probably get over to Darry's. He is making dinner." He said as he passed me the ice. "I want to show you something before we go."

I nodded and pulled myself up by the shelf, following as headed down the hallway. I eyed the front doorway like I needed an escape route, then shook my head at myself, coming to a stop at the end of the short hallway with my arms wrapped around myself.

He pushed open a white door to a room of soft green and lavender. It had a nice double bed with a matching green bed set, a small desk, a proper dresser with mirror painted lavender too. Around the lavender curtained windows, green vines were painted. On the closet door hung a full length mirror. The room was simple and not overly feminine. But it was nice.

"What do you think?" he asked in a proud voice, and that's when it occurred to me he had done this. Who knows how much work, if he room had already been green or what, but he had bought the curtains and bed. That's what he had been working on today.

"Nice." I stared at it, somehow afraid to go inside.

"Yea I thought it was a little more girly than me and soda's old room."

I turned to face him. It was the closest we had been since he picked me off that floor. He was on one side of the doorframe I was on the other. "You actually want me to move in with you" I asked, searching his response sharply.

"Of course." He said in earnest, almost hurt I would ask. "But I do have to warn you," he crossed his arms. "There will be rules." His tone was joking but he wasn't, I was sure.

"Like?" I asked cautiously.

"Like a curfew for one."

"What sort of curfew?"

"Well I think that's something we can talk about once you get in."

"Oh no, if I'm going, I want to know what I'm getting into beforehand." I said jokingly, swinging my arms like a ref, but I wasn't joking either.

"Ok," he laughed. "How about for your freshman year of high school…nine on school nites, but longer for special functions like dances or sports. Ten on weekends and summer, eleven if I know where you are."

I whistled. "Sounds more like elementary school to me."

"I can't imagine Cherry was must more lax." He was critical. He was right. I shrugged.

"Well, I guess you're gonna get lonely over here." I laughed teasingly, but looked at the room again. It was beautiful. It smelled nice.

I really did not understand anything that was going on—did he want me or did he just feel guilty? Did that rich jock want to kiss me or beat me up? And was Kevin my surrogate big brother or secret admirer?

"Well," he shifted. "I think Darry could use some privacy too."

I blinked. Darry hadn't said anything, but of course Darry wouldn't. I swallowed hard. Is that why he tried so hard to get a hold of my father? So he would come back and take me off his hands?

And men say women are confusing. For the first time since her death, I asked myself what my mother would do in a situation like this, since none of the men in my life were making sense. And that's when I realized, she'd do the opposite of what they were doing: she'd say exactly what she thought.

"Look, you don't have to stay. I really can take care of myself. I have a job and I'm doing just fine in school too. If I'm in the way for Darry, I can stay with Kevin or Lois or something."

"No, no that's not what I meant." He tried, but he'd already lost me. I turned away from the room, wishing for some reason that I'd never seen it. "El, wait. Darry loves you, I just meant—"

I'd already reached the front door, but at this I whipped around, ignoring my protesting knee. "Nobody loves me but my momma, and she's dead." That shut him up. It was true, not another human being had ever said that. Feeling angry and hurt, I narrowed my eyes as I informed him. "I don't know you and I don't know that I want to know you. People say awful stuff about you being a killer while Darry and Two Bit act like you hung the moon, but even if I do want to get to know you, I do not need you, you got that? I never had a father and you've never been one and that worked out just fine for both of us until now. I don't need Darry." I raised my voice, stepping towards him with each sentence, feeling my whole body burning. "And I don't need Kevin either. Cherry Valance did just fine on her own, and I can too."

Realizing I'd run out of things to shout at him, I turned around and ran. "El!" He shouted, but did not pursue me. That was it. I was tired of them all treating me like a damn egg that couldn't be dropped. I would prove them wrong, and then maybe they would leave me alone. I wasn't sure I wanted to be alone, but it had to be better than being kept like a puppy by people who felt sorry for poor little you.

El Dorado Curtis was about to show everyone she was no puppy. If people weren't going to be up front with me, I'd just have to make them say what they meant. Trembling with rage so much I couldn't even feel the pain anymore or the cold without my sweater, I found myself walking towards town. I was done running from trouble, I thought with my fists banging against my thighs. I was looking for a fight.

I ain't thankful for crap.

A/N: Well? A little shocking. What is going to happen next? How do you feel about El and he men troubles? Please leave a review! Pretty please?