He grinned one of his rare grins. "Yeah. See y'all this afternoon."
"Bye," I said. I heard our Ford's vvrrrrooooom and thought: Soda's driving. And they left.
" . . .anyway, I was walking around downtown and started to take this short cut through an alley"--Two-Bit was telling me about one of his many exploits while we did the dishes. I mean, while I did the dishes. He was sitting on the cabinet, sharpening that black-handled switchblade he was so proud of--" . . .and I ran into three guys. I says 'Howdy' and they just look at each other. Then one says 'We would jump you but since you're as slick as us we figger you don't have nothin' worth takin'.' I says 'Buddy, that's the truth' and went right on. Moral: What's the safest thing to be when one is met by a gang of social outcasts in an alley?"
"A judo expert?" I suggested.
"No, another social outcast!" Two-Bit yelped, and nearly fell off the cabinet from laughing so hard. I had to grin, too. He saw things straight and made them into something funny.
"We're gonna clean up the house," I said. "The reporters or police or somebody might come by, and anyway, it's time for those guys from the state to come by and check up on us."
"This house ain't messy. You oughtta see my house."
"I have. And if you had the sense of a billy goat you'd try to help around your place instead of bumming around."
"Shoot, kid, if I ever did that my mom would die of shock."
I liked Two-Bit's mother. She had the same good humor and easygoing ways that he did. She wasn't lazy like him, but she let him get away with murder. I don't know, though--it's just about impossible to get mad at him.
When we had finished, I pulled on Dally's brown leather jacket--the back was burned black--and we started for Tenth Street.
"I would drive us," Two-Bit said as we walked up the street trying to thumb a ride, "but the brakes are out on my car. Almost killed me and Kathy the other night." He flipped the collar of his black leather jacket up to serve as a windbreak while he lit a cigarette. "You oughtta see Kathy's brother. Now there's a hood. He's so greasy he glides when he walks. He goes to the barber for an oil change, not a haircut."
I would have laughed, but I had a terrific headache. We stopped at the Tasty Freeze to buy Cokes and rest up, and the blue Mustang that had been trailing us for eight blocks pulled in. I almost decided to run, and Two-Bit must have guessed this, for he shook his head ever so slightly and tossed me a cigarette. As I lit up, the Socs who had jumped Johnny and me at the park hopped out of the Mustang. I recognized Randy Adderson, Marcia's boyfriend, and the tall guy that had almost drowned me. I hated them. It was their fault Bob was dead; their fault Johnny was dying; their fault Soda and I might get put in a boys' home. I hated them as bitterly and as contemptuously as Dally Winston hated.
Two-Bit put an elbow on my shoulder and leaned against me, dragging on his cigarette. "You know the rules. No jazz before the rumble," he said to the Socs.
"We know," Randy said. He looked at me. "Come here. I want to talk to you."
I glanced at Two-Bit. He shrugged. I followed Randy over to his car, out of earshot of the rest. We sat there in his car for a second, silent. Golly, that was the tuffest car I've ever been in.
"I read about you in the paper," Randy said finally. "How come?"
"I don't know. Maybe I felt like playing hero."
"I wouldn't have. I would have let those kids burn to death."
"You might not have. You might have done the same thing."
Randy pulled out a cigarette and pressed in the car lighter. "I don't know. I don't know anything anymore. I would never have believed a greaser could pull something like that."
"'Greaser' didn't have anything to do with it. My buddy over there wouldn't have done it. Maybe you would have done the same thing, maybe a friend of yours wouldn't have. It's the individual."
"I'm not going to show at the rumble tonight," Randy said slowly.
I took a good look at him. He was seventeen or so, but he was already old. Like Dallas was old. Cherry had said her friends were too cool to feel anything, and yet she could remember watching sunsets. Randy was supposed to be too cool to feel anything, and yet there was pain in his eyes.
"I'm sick of all this. Sick and tired. Bob was a good guy. He was the best buddy a guy ever had. I mean, he was a good fighter and tuff and everything, but he was a real person too. You dig?"
"He's dead--his mother has had a nervous breakdown. They spoiled him rotten. I mean, most parents would be proud of a kid like that--good-lookin' and smart and everything, but they gave in to him all the time. He kept trying to make someone say 'No' and they never did. They never did. That was what he wanted. For somebody to tell him 'No.' To have somebody lay down the law, set the limits, give him something solid to stand on. That's what we all want, really. One time . . ."--Randy tried to grin, but I could tell he was close to tears--"one time he came home drunker than anything. He thought sure they were gonna raise the roof. You know what they did? They thought it was something they'd done. They thought it was their fault--that they'd failed him and driven him to it or something. They took all the blame and didn't do anything to him. If his old man had just belted him--just once, he might still be alive. I don't know why I'm telling you this. I couldn't tell anyone else. My friends--they'd think I was off my rocker or turning soft. Maybe I am. I just know that I'm sick of this whole mess. That kid--your buddy, the one that got burned--he might die?"
"Yeah," I said, trying not to think about Johnny.
"And tonight . . . people get hurt in rumbles, maybe killed. I'm sick of it because it doesn't do any good. You can't win, you know that, don't you?" And when I remained silent he went on: "You can't win, even if you whip us. You'll still be where you were before--at the bottom. And we'll still be the lucky ones with all the breaks. So it doesn't do any good, the fighting and the killing. It doesn't prove a thing. We'll forget it if you win, or if you don't. Greasers will still be greasers and Socs will still be Socs. Sometimes I think it's the ones in the middle that are really the lucky stiffs . . ." He took a deep breath. "So I'd fight if I thought it'd do any good. I think I'm going to leave town. Take my little old Mustang and all the dough I can carry and get out."
"Running away won't help."
"Oh, hell, I know it," Randy half-sobbed, "but what can I do? I'm marked chicken if I punk out at the rumble, and I'd hate myself if I didn't. I don't know what to do."
"I'd help you if I could," I said. I remembered Cherry's voice: Things are rough all over. I knew then what she meant.
He looked at me. "No, you wouldn't. I'm a Soc. You get a little money and the whole world hates you."
"No," I said, "you hate the whole world."
He just looked at me--from the way he looked he could have been ten years older than he was. I got out of the car. "You would have saved those kids if you had been there," I said. "You'd have saved them the same as we did."
"Thanks, grease," he said, trying to grin. Then he stopped. "I didn't mean that. I meant, thanks, kid."
"My name's Ponyboy," I said. "Nice talkin' to you, Randy."
I walked over to Two-Bit, and Randy honked for his friends to come and get into the car.
"What'd he want?" Two-Bit asked. "What'd Mr. Super-Soc have to say?"
"He ain't a Soc," I said, "he's just a guy. He just wanted to talk."
"You want to see a movie before we go see Johnny and Dallas?"
"Nope," I said, lighting up another weed. I still had a headache, but I felt better. Socs were just guys after all. Things were rough all over, but it was better that way. That way you could tell the other guy was human too.
THE NURSES WOULDN'T let us see Johnny. He was in critical condition. No visitors. But Two-Bit wouldn't take no for an answer. That was his buddy in there and he aimed to see him. We both begged and pleaded, but we were getting nowhere until the doctor found out what was going on.
"Let them go in," he said
to the nurse. "He's been asking for them. It can't hurt now."
Two-Bit didn't notice the expression in his voice. It's true, I thought numbly, he is dying. We went in, practically on tiptoe, because the quietness of the hospital scared us. Johnny was lying still, with his eyes closed, but when Two-Bit said, "Hey, Johnnykid," he opened them and looked at us, trying to grin. "Hey, y'all."
The nurse, who was pulling the shades open, smiled and said, "So he can talk after all."
Two-Bit looked around. "They treatin' you okay, kid?"
"Don't . . ."--Johnny gasped--"don't let me put enough grease on my hair."
"Don't talk," Two-Bit said, pulling up a chair, "just listen. We'll bring you some hair grease next time. We're havin' the big rumble tonight."
Johnny's huge black eyes widened a little, but he didn't say anything.
"It's too bad you and Dally can't be in it. It's the first big rumble we've had--not countin' the time we whipped Shepard's outfit."
"He came by," Johnny said.
Johnny nodded. "Came to see Dally."
Tim and Dallas had always been buddies.
"Did you know you got your name in the paper for being a hero?"
Johnny almost grinned as he nodded. "Tuff enough," he managed, and by the way his eyes were glowing, I figured Southern gentlemen had nothing on Johnny Cade.
I could see that even a few words were tiring him out; he was as pale as the pillow and looked awful. Two-Bit pretended not to notice.
"You want anything besides hair grease, kid?"
Johnny barely nodded. "The book"--he looked at me--"can you get another one?"
Two-Bit looked at me too. I hadn't told him about Gone with the Wind.
"He wants a copy of Gone with the Wind so I can read it to him," I explained. "You want to run down to the drugstore and get one?"
"Okay," Two-Bit said cheerfully. "Don't y'all run off."
I sat down in Two-Bit's chair and tried to think of something to say. "Dally's gonna be okay," I said finally. "And Darry and me, we're okay now."
I knew Johnny understood what I meant. We had always been close buddies, and those lonely days in the church strengthened our friendship. He tried to smile again, and then suddenly went white and closed his eyes tight.
"Johnny!" I said, alarmed. "Are you okay?"
He nodded, keeping his eyes closed. "Yeah, it just hurts sometimes. It usually don't . . . I can't feel anything below the middle of my back . . ."
He lay breathing heavily for a moment. "I'm pretty bad off, ain't I, Pony?"
"You'll be okay," I said with fake cheerfulness. "You gotta be. We couldn't get along without you."
The truth of that last statement hit me. We couldn't get along without him. We needed Johnny as much as he needed the gang. And for the same reason.
"I won't be able to walk again," Johnny started, then faltered. "Not even on crutches. Busted my back."
"You'll be okay," I repeated firmly. Don't start crying, I commanded myself, don't start crying, you'll scare Johnny.
"You want to know something, Ponyboy? I'm scared stiff. I used to talk about killing myself . . ." He drew a quivering breath. "I don't want to die now. It ain't long enough. Sixteen years ain't long enough. I wouldn't mind it so much if there wasn't so much stuff I ain't done yet and so many things I ain't seen. It's not fair. You know what? That time we were in Windrixville was the only time I've been away from our neighborhood."
"You ain't gonna die," I said, trying to hold my voice down. "And don't get juiced up, because the doc won't let us see you no more if you do."
Sixteen years on the streets and you can learn a lot. But all the wrong things, not the things you want to learn. Sixteen years on the streets and you see a lot. But all the wrong sights, not the sights you want to see.
Johnny closed his eyes and rested quietly for a minute. Years of living on the East Side teaches you how to shut off your emotions. If you didn't, you would explode. You learn to cool it.
A nurse appeared in the doorway. "Johnny," she said quietly, "your mother's here to see you."
Johnny opened his eyes. At first they were wide with surprise, then they darkened. "I don't want to see her," he said firmly.
"She's your mother."
"I said I don't want to see her." His voice was rising. "She's probably come to tell me about all the trouble I'm causing her and about how glad her and the old man'll be when I'm dead. Well, tell her to leave me alone. For once"--his voice broke--"for once just to leave me alone." He was struggling to sit up, but he suddenly gasped, went whiter than the pillowcase, and passed out cold.
The nurse hurried me out the door. "I was afraid of something like this if he saw anyone."
I ran into Two-Bit, who was coming in.
"You can't see him now," the nurse said, so Two-Bit handed her the book. "Make sure he can see it when he comes around." She took it and closed the door behind her. Two-Bit stood and looked at the door a long time. "I wish it was any one of us except Johnny," he said, and his voice was serious for once. "We could get along without anyone but Johnny."
Turning abruptly, he said, "Let's go see Dallas."
As we walked out into the hall, we saw Johnny's mother. I knew her. She was a little woman, with straight black hair and big black eyes like Johnny's. But that was as far as the resemblance went. Johnnycake's eyes were fearful and sensitive; hers were cheap and hard. As we passed her she was saying, "But I have a right to see him. He's my son. After all the trouble his father and I've gone to to raise him, this is our reward! He'd rather see those no-count hoodlums than his own folks . . ." She saw us and gave us such a look of hatred that I almost backed up. "It was your fault. Always running around in the middle of the night getting jailed and heaven knows what else . . ." I thought she was going to cuss us out. I really did.
Two-Bit's eyes got narrow and I was afraid he was going to start something. I don't like to hear women get sworn at, even if they deserve it. "No wonder he hates your guts," Two-Bit snapped. He was going to tell her off real good, but I shoved him along. I felt sick. No wonder Johnny didn't want to see her. No wonder he stayed overnight at Two-Bit's or at our house, and slept in the vacant lot in good weather. I remembered my mother . . . beautiful and golden, like Soda, and wise and firm, like Darry.
"Oh, lordy!" There was a catch in Two-Bit's voice and he was closer to tears than I'd ever seen him. "He has to live with that."
We hurried to the elevator to get to the next floor. I hoped the nurse would have enough sense not to let Johnny's mother see him. It would kill him.
Dally was arguing with one of the nurses when we came in. He grinned at us. "Man, am I glad to see you! These--hospital people won't let me smoke, and I want out!"
We sat down, grinning at each other. Dally was his usual mean, ornery self. He was okay.
"Shepard came by to see me a while ago."
"That's what Johnny said. What'd he want?"
"Said he saw my picture in the paper and couldn't believe it didn't have 'Wanted Dead or Alive' under it. He mostly came to rub it in about the rumble. Man, I hate not bein' in that."
Only last week Tim Shepard had cracked three of Dally's ribs. But Dally and Tim Shepard had always been buddies; no matter how they fought, they were two of a kind, and they knew it.
Dally was grinning at me. "Kid, you scared the devil outa me the other day. I thought I'd killed you."
"Me?" I said, puzzled. "Why?"
"When you jumped out of the church. I meant to hit you just hard enough to knock you down and put out the fire, but when you dropped like a ton of lead I thought I'd aimed too high and broke your neck." He thought for a minute. "I'm glad I didn't, though."
"I'll bet," I said with a grin. I'd never liked Dally--but then, for the first time, I felt like he was my buddy. And all because he was glad he hadn't killed me.
Dally looked out the window. "Uh . . ."--he sounded very casual--"how's the kid?"
ust left him," Two-Bit said, and I could tell that he was debating whether to tell Dally the truth or not. "I don't know about stuff like this . . . but . . . well, he seemed pretty bad to me. He passed out cold before we left him."
Dally's jaw line went white as he swore between clenched teeth.
"Two-Bit, you still got that fancy black-handled switch?"
"Give it here."
Two-Bit reached into his back pocket for his prize possession. It was a jet-handled switchblade, ten inches long, that would flash open at a mere breath. It was the reward of two hours of walking aimlessly around a hardware store to divert suspicion. He kept it razor sharp. As far as I knew, he had never pulled it on anyone; he used his plain pocketknife when he needed a blade. But it was his showpiece, his pride and joy--every time he ran into a new hood he pulled it out and showed off with it. Dally knew how much that knife meant to Two-Bit, and if he needed a blade bad enough to ask for it, well, he needed a blade. That was all there was to it. Two-Bit handed it over to Dally without a moment's hesitation.
"We gotta win that fight tonight," Dally said. His voice was hard. "We gotta get even with the Socs. For Johnny."
He put the switch under his pillow and lay back, staring at the ceiling. We left. We knew better than to talk to Dally when his eyes were blazing and he was in a mood like that.
We decided to catch a bus home. I just didn't feel much like walking or trying to hitch a ride. Two-Bit left me sitting on the bench at the bus stop while he went to a gas station to buy some cigarettes. I was kind of sick to my stomach and sort of groggy. I was nearly asleep when I felt someone's hand on my forehead. I almost jumped out of my skin. Two-Bit was looking down at me worriedly. "You feel okay? You're awful hot."
"I'm all right," I said, and when he looked at me as if he didn't believe me, I got a little panicky. "Don't tell Darry, okay? Come on, Two-Bit, be a buddy. I'll be well by tonight. I'll take a bunch of aspirins."
"All right," Two-Bit said reluctantly. "But Darry'll kill me if you're really sick and go ahead and fight anyway."
"I'm okay," I said, getting a little angry. "And if you keep your mouth shut, Darry won't know a thing."
"You know somethin'?" Two-Bit said as we were riding home on the bus. "You'd think you could get away with murder, living with your big brother and all, but Darry's stricter with you than your folks were, ain't he?"