I had heard the same tone a million times: "Greaser . . . greaser . . . greaser." Oh yeah, I had heard that tone before too many times. What are they doing at a drive-in without a car? I thought, and Dallas said, "I know you two. I've seen you around rodeos."
"It's a shame you can't ride bull half as good as you can talk it," the redhead said coolly and turned back around.
That didn't bother Dally in the least. "You two barrel race, huh?"
"You'd better leave us alone," the redhead said in a biting voice, "or I'll call the cops."
"Oh, my, my"--Dally looked bored--"you've got me scared to death. You ought to see my record sometime, baby." He grinned slyly. "Guess what I've been in for?"
"Please leave us alone," she said. "Why don't you be nice and leave us alone?"
Dally grinned roguishly. "I'm never nice. Want a Coke?"
She was mad by then. "I wouldn't drink it if I was starving in the desert. Get lost, hood!"
Dally merely shrugged and strolled off.
The girl looked at me. I was half-scared of her. I'm half-scared of all nice girls, especially Socs. "Are you going to start in on us?"
I shook my head, wide-eyed. "No."
Suddenly she smiled. Gosh, she was pretty. "You don't look the type. What's your name?"
I wished she hadn't asked me that. I hate to tell people my name for the first time. "Ponyboy Curtis."
Then I waited for the "You're kidding!" or "That's your real name?" or one of the other remarks I usually get. Ponyboy's my real name and personally I like it.
The redhead just smiled. "That's an original and lovely name."
"My dad was an original person," I said. "I've got a brother named Sodapop, and it says so on his birth certificate."
"My name's Sherri, but I'm called Cherry because of my hair. Cherry Valance."
"I know," I said. "You're a cheerleader. We go to the same school."
"You don't look old enough to be going to high school," the dark-haired girl said.
"I'm not. I got put up a year in grade school."
Cherry was looking at me. "What's a nice, smart kid like you running around with trash like that for?"
I felt myself stiffen. "I'm a grease, same as Dally. He's my buddy."
"I'm sorry, Ponyboy," she said softly. Then she said briskly, "Your brother Sodapop, does he work at a gasoline station? A DX, I think?"
"Man, your brother is one doll. I might have guessed you were brothers--you look alike."
I grinned with pride--I don't think I look one bit like Soda, but it's not every day I hear Socs telling me they think my brother is a doll.
"Didn't he used to ride in rodeos? Saddle bronc?"
"Yeah. Dad made him quit after he tore a ligament, though. We still hang around rodeos a lot. I've seen you two barrel race. You're good."
"Thanks," Cherry said, and the other girl, who was named Marcia, said, "How come we don't see your brother at school? He's not any older than sixteen or seventeen, is he?"
I winced inside. I've told you I can't stand it that Soda dropped out. "He's a dropout," I said roughly. "Dropout" made me think of some poor dumb-looking hoodlum wandering the streets breaking out street lights--it didn't fit my happy-go-lucky brother at all. It fitted Dally perfectly, but you could hardly say it about Soda.
Johnny came back then and sat down beside me. He looked around for Dally, then managed a shy "Hi" to the girls and tried to watch the movie. He was nervous, though. Johnny was always nervous around strangers. Cherry looked at him, sizing him up as she had me. Then she smiled softly, and I knew she had him sized up right.
Dally came striding back with an armful of Cokes. He handed one to each of the girls and sat down beside Cherry. "This might cool you off."
She gave him an incredulous look; and then she threw her Coke in his face. "That might cool you off, greaser. After you wash your mouth and learn to talk and act decent, I might cool off, too."
Dally wiped the Coke off his face with his sleeve and smiled dangerously. If I had been Cherry I would have beat it out of there. I knew that smile.
"Fiery, huh? Well, that's the way I like 'em." He started to put his arm around her, but Johnny reached over and stopped him.
"Leave her alone, Dally."
"Huh?" Dally was taken off guard. He stared at Johnny in disbelief. Johnny couldn't say "Boo" to a goose. Johnny gulped and got a little pale, but he said, "You heard me. Leave her alone."
Dallas scowled for a second. If it had been me, or Two-Bit, or Soda or Steve, or anyone but Johnny, Dally would have flattened him without a moment's hesitation. You just didn't tell Dally Winston what to do. One time, in a dime store, a guy told him to move over at the candy counter. Dally had turned around and belted him so hard it knocked a tooth loose. A complete stranger, too. But Johnny was the gang's pet, and Dally just couldn't hit him. He was Dally's pet, too. Dally got up and stalked off, his fists jammed in his pockets and a frown on his face. He didn't come back.
Cherry sighed in relief. "Thanks. He had me scared to death."
Johnny managed an admiring grin. "You sure didn't show it. Nobody talks to Dally like that."
She smiled. "From what I saw, you do."
Johnny's ears got red. I was still staring at him. It had taken more than nerve for him to say what he'd said to Dally--Johnny worshiped the ground Dallas walked on, and I had never heard Johnny talk back to anyone, much less his hero.
Marcia grinned at us. She was a little smaller than Cherry. She was cute, but that Cherry Valance was a real looker. "Y'all sit up here with us. You can protect us."
Johnny and I looked at each other. He grinned suddenly, raising his eyebrows so that they disappeared under his bangs. Would we ever have something to tell the boys! his eyes said plainly. We had picked up two girls, and classy ones at that. Not any greasy broads for us, but real Socs. Soda would flip when I told him.
"Okay," I said nonchalantly, "might as well."
I sat between them, and Johnny sat next to Cherry.
"How old are y'all?" Marcia asked.
"Fourteen," I said.
"Sixteen," said Johnny.
"That's funny," Marcia said, "I thought you were both . . ."
"Sixteen," Cherry finished for her.
I was grateful. Johnny looked fourteen and he knew it and it bugged him something awful.
Johnny grinned. "How come y'all ain't scared of us like you were Dally?"
Cherry sighed. "You two are too sweet to scare anyone. First of all, you didn't join in Dallas's dirty talk, and you made him leave us alone. And when we asked you to sit up here with us, you didn't act like it was an invitation to make out for the night. Besides that, I've heard about Dallas Winston, and he looked as hard as nails and twice as tough. And you two don't look mean."
"Sure," I said tiredly, "we're young and innocent."
"No," Cherry said slowly, looking at me carefully, "not innocent. You've seen too much to be innocent. Just not . . . dirty."
"Dally's okay," Johnny said defensively, and I nodded. You take up for your buddies, no matter what they do. When you're a gang, you stick up for the members. If you don't stick up for them, stick together, make like brothers, it isn't a gang any more. It's a pack. A snarling, distrustful, bickering pack like the Socs in their social clubs or the street gangs in New York or the wolves in the timber. "He's tough, but he's a cool old guy."
"He'd leave you alone if he knew you," I said, and that was true. When Steve's cousin from Kansas came down, Dally was decent to her and watched his swearing. We all did around nice girls who were the cousinly type. I don't know how to explain it--we try to be nice to the girls we see once in a while, like cousins or the girls in class; but we still watch a nice girl go by on a street corner and say all kinds of lousy stuff about her. Don't ask me why. I don't know why.
"Well," Marcia said with finality, "I'm glad he doesn't know us."
"I kind of admire him," Cherry said softly, so only I heard, and then we settl
ed down to watch the movie.
Oh, yeah, we found out why they were without a car. They'd come with their boyfriends, but walked out on them when they found out the boys had brought some booze along. The boys had gotten angry and left.
"I don't care if they did." Cherry sounded annoyed. "It's not my idea of a good time to sit in a drive-in and watch people get drunk."
You could tell by the way she said it that her idea of a good time was probably high-class, and probably expensive. They'd decided to stay and see the movie anyway. It was one of those beach-party movies with no plot and no acting but a lot of girls in bikinis and some swinging songs, so it was all right. We were all four sitting there in silence when suddenly a strong hand came down on Johnny's shoulder and another on mine and a deep voice said, "Okay, greasers, you've had it."
I almost jumped out of my skin. It was like having someone leap out from behind a door and yell "Boo!" at you.
I looked fearfully over my shoulder and there was Two-Bit, grinning like a Chessy cat. "Glory, Two-Bit, scare us to death!" He was good at voice imitations and had sounded for all the world like a snarling Soc. Then I looked at Johnny. His eyes were shut and he was as white as a ghost. His breath was coming in smothered gasps. Two-Bit knew better than to scare Johnny like that. I guess he'd forgotten. He's kind of scatterbrained. Johnny opened his eyes and said weakly, "Hey, Two-Bit."
Two-Bit messed up his hair, "Sorry, kid," he said, "I forgot."
He climbed over the chair and plopped down beside Marcia. "Who's this, your great-aunts?"
"Great-grandmothers, twice removed," Cherry said smoothly.
I couldn't tell if Two-Bit was drunk or not. It's kind of hard to tell with him--he acts boozed up sometimes even when he's sober. He cocked one eyebrow up and the other down, which he always does when something puzzles him, or bothers him, or when he feels like saying something smart. "Shoot, you're ninety-six if you're a day."
"I'm a night," Marcia said brightly.
Two-Bit stared at her admiringly. "Brother, you're a sharp one. Where'd you two ever get to be picked up by a couple of greasy hoods like Pony and Johnny?"
"We really picked them up," Marcia said. "We're really Arabian slave traders and we're thinking about shanghaiing them. They're worth ten camels apiece at least."
"Five," Two-Bit disagreed. "They don't talk Arabian, I don't think. Say somethin' in Arabian, Johnnycake."
"Aw, cut it out!" Johnny broke in. "Dally was bothering them and when he left they wanted us to sit with them to protect them. Against wisecracking greasers like you, probably."
Two-Bit grinned, because Johnny didn't usually get sassy like that. We thought we were doing good if we could get him to talk at all. Incidentally, we don't mind being called greaser by another greaser. It's kind of playful then.
"Hey, where is ol' Dally, anyways?"
"He went hunting some action--booze or dames or a fight. I hope he don't get jailed again. He just got out."
"He'll probably find the fight," Two-Bit stated cheerfully. "That's why I came over. Mr. Timothy Shepard and Co. are looking for whoever so kindly slashed their car's tires, and since Mr. Curly Shepard spotted Dallas doing it . . . well . . . Does Dally have a blade?"
"Not that I know of," I said. "I think he's got a piece of pipe, but he busted his blade this morning."
"Good. Tim'll fight fair if Dally don't pull a blade on him. Dally shouldn't have any trouble."
Cherry and Marcia were staring at us. "You don't believe in playing rough or anything, do you?"
"A fair fight isn't rough," Two-Bit said. "Blades are rough. So are chains and heaters and pool sticks and rumbles. Skin fighting isn't rough. It blows off steam better than anything. There's nothing wrong with throwing a few punches. Socs are rough. They gang up on one or two, or they rumble each other with their social clubs. Us greasers usually stick together, but when we do fight among ourselves, it's a fair fight between two. And Dally deserves whatever he gets, 'cause slashed tires ain't no joke when you've got to work to pay for them. He got spotted, too, and that was his fault. Our one rule, besides Stick together, is Don't get caught. He might get beat up, he might not. Either way there's not going to be any blood feud between our outfit and Shepard's. If we needed them tomorrow they'd show. If Tim beats Dally's head in, and then tomorrow asks us for help in a rumble, we'll show. Dally was getting kicks. He got caught. He pays up. No sweat."
"Yeah, boy," Cherry said sarcastically, "real simple."
"Sure," Marcia said, unconcerned. "If he gets killed or something, you just bury him. No sweat."
"You dig okay, baby." Two-Bit grinned and lit a cigarette. "Anyone want a weed?"
I looked at Two-Bit admiringly. He sure put things into words good. Maybe he was still a junior at eighteen and a half, and maybe his sideburns were too long, and maybe he did get boozed up too much, but he sure understood things.
Cherry and Marcia shook their heads at his offering of cigarettes, but Johnny and I reached for one. Johnny's color was back and his breathing was regular, but his hand was shaking ever so slightly. A cigarette would steady it.
"Ponyboy, will you come with me to get some popcorn?" Cherry asked.
I jumped up. "Sure. Y'all want some?"
"I do," said Marcia. She was finishing the Coke Dally had given her. I realized then that Marcia and Cherry weren't alike. Cherry had said she wouldn't drink Dally's Coke if she was starving, and she meant it. It was the principle of the thing. But Marcia saw no reason to throw away a perfectly good, free Coke.
"Me too," said Two-Bit. He flipped me a fifty-cent piece. "Get Johnny some, too. I'm buyin'," he added as Johnny started to reach into his jeans pocket.
We went to the concession stand and, as usual, there was a line a mile long, so we had to wait. Quite a few kids turned to look at us--you didn't see a kid grease and a Socy cheerleader together often. Cherry didn't seem to notice.
"Your friend--the one with the sideburns--he's okay?"
"He ain't dangerous like Dallas if that's what you mean. He's okay."
She smiled and her eyes showed that her mind was on something else. "Johnny . . . he's been hurt bad sometime, hasn't he?" It was more of a statement than a question. "Hurt and scared."
"It was the Socs," I said nervously, because there were plenty of Socs milling around and some of them were giving me funny looks, as if I shouldn't be with Cherry or something. And I don't like to talk about it either--Johnny getting beat up, I mean. But I started in, talking a little faster than I usually do because I don't like to think about it either.
It was almost four months ago. I had walked down to the DX station to get a bottle of pop and to see Steve and Soda, because they'll always buy me a couple of bottles and let me help work on the cars. I don't like to go on weekends because then there is usually a bunch of girls down there flirting with Soda--all kinds of girls, Socs too. I don't care too much for girls yet. Soda says I'll grow out of it. He did.
It was a warmish spring day with the sun shining bright, but it was getting chilly and dark by the time we started for home. We were walking because we had left Steve's car at the station. At the corner of our block there's a wide, open field where we play football and hang out, and it's often a site for rumbles and fist fights. We were passing it, kicking rocks down the street and finishing our last bottle of Pepsi, when Steve noticed something lying on the ground. He picked it up. It was Johnny's blue-jeans jacket--the only jacket he had.
"Looks like Johnny forgot his jacket," Steve said, slinging it over his shoulder to take it by Johnny's house. Suddenly he stopped and examined it more carefully. There was a stain the color of rust across the collar. He looked at the ground. There were some more stains on the grass. He looked up and across the field with a stricken expression on his face. I think we all heard the low moan and saw the dark motionless hump on the other side of the lot at the same time. Soda reached him first. Johnny was lying face down on the ground. Soda turned him over gently, and I nearly got sick.
Someone had beaten him badly.
We were used to seeing Johnny banged up--his father clobbered him around a lot, and although it made us madder than heck, we couldn't do anything about it. But those beatings had been nothing like this. Johnny's face was cut up and bruised and swollen, and there was a wide gash from his temple to his cheekbone. He would carry that scar all his life. His white T-shirt was splattered with blood. I just stood there, trembling with sudden cold. I thought he might be dead; surely nobody could be beaten like that and live. Steve closed his eyes for a second and muffled a groan as he dropped on his knees beside Soda.
Somehow the gang sensed what had happened. Two-Bit was suddenly there beside me, and for once his comical grin was gone and his dancing gray eyes were stormy. Darry had seen us from our porch and ran toward us, suddenly skidding to a halt. Dally was there, too, swearing under his breath, and turning away with a sick expression on his face. I wondered about it vaguely. Dally had seen people killed on the streets of New York's West Side. Why did he look sick now?
"Johnny?" Soda lifted him up and held him against his shoulder. He gave the limp body a slight shake. "Hey, Johnnycake."
Johnny didn't open his eyes, but there came a soft question. "Soda?"
"Yeah, it's me," Sodapop said. "Don't talk. You're gonna be okay."
"There was a whole bunch of them," Johnny went on, swallowing, ignoring Soda's command. "A blue Mustang full . . . I got so scared . . ." He tried to swear, but suddenly started crying, fighting to control himself, then sobbing all the more because he couldn't. I had seen Johnny take a whipping with a two-by-four from his old man and never let out a whimper. That made it worse to see him break now. Soda just held him and pushed Johnny's hair back out of his eyes. "It's okay, Johnnycake, they're gone now. It's okay."
Finally, between sobs, Johnny managed to gasp out his story. He had been hunting our football to practice a few kicks when a blue Mustang had pulled up beside the lot. There were four Socs in it. They had caught him and one of them had a lot of rings on his hand--that's what had cut Johnny up so badly. It wasn't just that they had beaten him half to death--he could take that. They had scared him. They had threatened him with everything under the sun. Johnny was high-strung anyway, a nervous wreck from getting belted every time he turned around and from hearing his parents fight all the time. Living in those conditions might have turned someone else rebellious and bitter; it was killing Johnny. He had never been a coward. He was a good man in a rumble. He stuck up for the gang and kept his mouth shut good around cops. But after the night of the beating, Johnny was jumpier than ever. I didn't think he'd ever get over it. Johnny never walked by himself after that. And Johnny, who was the most law-abiding of us, now carried in his back pocket a six-inch switchblade. He'd use it, too, if he ever got jumped again. They had scared him that much. He would kill the next person who jumped him. Nobody was ever going to beat him like that again. Not over his dead body . . .