The Outsiders; Chapter 13

22 years later, where is the gang now?

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1. epilogue

New York City, 1987

"Ponyboy!" a reporter shouted, cameras flashing at me as I walked into the building. "Ponyboy, over here! What do you have to say about the rumours about a movie?" Jeez, no matter how many times something like this happens, I'll never get used to it. The feeling that people actually know who I am. Actually care about what I have to say.

As much as I wanted to stop and talk to everyone around me yelling my name and trying to ask me questions, I knew I couldn't. Right after this interview - the third damn one of the day - I've gotta hop on a plane and head back to the gang in Tulsa. Darry's been doing great, he started his own construction company and even got married! She's a real nice girl, her and Darry apparently met in high school - I say apparently because the guy never mentioned her before a couple of years ago - and they started going out December of '85. Darry even did a whole big proposal, with rose petals and everything. Soda and Steve bugged him about it for weeks, calling him a sap and all that, but I thought it was real nice and genuine. The rest of the gang has been doing good too. Steve and Soda work for Darry, and Two-Bit does stand up comedy at all the local events. It doesn't make him much, but when has Two-Bit ever cared about that?

And as for me, if you haven't figured it out by now, I'm an author. Award winning one too. When I published my first book, back when I was 16, me and everyone else thought it would flop for sure (except Darry, he just messed up my hair and told me he thinks it's pretty tuff). Anyway, some famous guy came to my school and saw the book on my teacher's desk. He read it, and thought it was genius! After that, sales spiked like crazy and my publisher put out more and more books. That was back in '65, but since then, I wrote 10 more books and one of 'em might even be a movie soon (Darry said that's pretty tuff too).

"Ponyboy!" someone called. I blinked to focus back into reality and ran a hand though my already too-messy-for-a-really-important-interview hair and looked for the person hollering at me. "Ponyboy Curtis?" I turned my head to see a young kid, probably around 15 or 16 with an ID card around his neck.

I put on a smile for him (he looked as nervous as I did when I'd come home late and Darry would holler at me) and said, "yeah that's me. Are you interviewing me today?"

The kid went as red as a tomato at that, shook his head furiously and said, stumbling all over his words, "no sir, I'm just an intern."

"All right, let me rephrase that," I said, scratching my head. "Do you want to interview me?" He still looked uneasy so I continued, "'cause I've never been interviewed by a kid, and I think it'd be pretty tuff - sorry, cool" No matter how many books I write in proper English, I still haven't shaken the whole greaser slang.

The intern grinned slightly. "Yeah, that would be pretty cool. But interns aren't allowed to do interviews, I just grab coffees and stuff." He deflated a bit at the end, like he was a little kid at a carnival and I blew him a balloon just so I could pop it.

A woman strode over to us and said to the intern, "Fletcher stop bothering the poor man, he doesn't have time to talk to the interns," then, turning to me, she said kindly, "Melissa is waiting for you in the interview room whenever you're ready."

Now if there's one thing I hate, its grownups who treat kids like idiots then turn around and talk to me with all this fake respect. Believe me, I know what it feels like to be on the kid's end of things. So, I put on my best 'professional voice' and said, "actually, could I make one request?"

~

"So Ponyboy," the boy started. I pulled some strings and told the woman that I'd like to be interviewed by an intern because it's my last interview for a while and it'd be good experience for Fletcher. I can't tell you how hard it was to not slip up and say something in bad English. "What made you start writing?"

I thought hard at that question. "I'm not sure," I said slowly. "I had always been a pretty smart kid and all, but when I was 14, I went through some really hard stuff, and I guess writing helped me deal with all that."

Fletcher nodded at my answer and made a note on his pad of paper. "And what advice would you give to young writers trying to get their writing noticed?"

I shifted around in my seat. "I don't know if I have any award winning advice or anything, but I'd say write about somethin' that you care about." I knew first hand that it's pretty useless trying to write something that you couldn't care less about. "When you write about a topic that you're passionate about, it shows, and it's that kind of thing that makes critics go wild over your book. Take my first book. I wrote that when I was 15 years old, half the grammar and spelling is wrong, but 'cause I wrote about somethin' that I went through personally, it made the book real genuine and stuff."

"And what do you think is the most important part of The Outsiders?" Fletcher asked.

I didn't even have to think about my answer. "It doesn't matter what I think. It's up to you to see it how you want. If you think the most important part is Two-Bit buying everyone sodas, then that's the most important part," I said simply.

There was a minute of awkward silence before he hesitantly began to talk, "so, I know I'm probably not supposed to ask this, and that every single reporter has probably asked you this question -

"Ask away," I said with a small chuckle at how unsure he was.

Fletcher took a breath and then continued, talking so quick all of his words sorta blended together into one, "whydidyourparentsnameyouPonyboy?"

I blinked once, twice, and then the question registered. Jeez, no one's asked me a question like that in a while. It's always 'Is The Outsiders really based on your life?' or, 'How did your parents die?'. Everyone wants to know the stuff that makes me seem all tuff and cool, like some sort of greaser Cinderella or somethin'. No one ever asks the kinda stuff that reminds them that I'm just a regular guy. Not gonna lie, hearing a real question like that made me smile wider than I was before.

He must've taken my silence as anger or just plain annoyance 'cause he quickly tried to backtrack into a weird little apology, "sorry sir, it's just I've never heard the name before and I also have kind of an odd sounding name and I was just wondering if there was a cool story behind it or something and I'm sorry you don't have to answer that." the last bit came out a little rushed, kind of like the initial question did, with it all blurring together real fast and messed up, but I got the gist of what he meant.

"Hey, it's okay," I tried to console him, but I've never been good at that and I certainly haven't gotten much better since I was a kid. "Don't worry about it kid. It's a real good question, promise." Fletcher calmed down a bit and cracked a small smile. "And to answer your question, I'm not sure exactly why, but I reckon that it probably has somethin' to do with bein' original and all that, considering my older brother's name is Sodapop."

Fletcher's small smile became almost nonexistent as he grumbled, "man I wish I got a cool name like Sodapop. My old man stuck me with 'Fletcher'. What kind of name is Fletcher?" He threw up his arms for emphasis.

I checked my watch and realized the time. "Well, thank you for the wonderful interview," I said, standing up. "And for what's it's worth, I think Fletcher is a pretty tuff name."

~

After quickly explaining to Fletcher the difference between 'tuff' and 'tough', I thanked him again, told him to keep up whatever he's been doing and just about sprinted right out of the building, so fast somebody probably thought I was tryin' to ditch the cops or something.

I hopped into my car and headed straight for the airport - Soda and Two-Bit tried to convince me to get a nice Corvette, rub the socs face in it, but I ended up getting a nice Toyota Corolla. It's not super flashy or anything, but it gets me from place to place and the gas isn't too bad either. Since I'm only visiting the gang for a week, I'll leave it here and pick it up when I get back.

Reaching the airport I grabbed my suitcase and carry-on and ran into the airport as fast as I could without looking real awkward. Darry told me I shouldn't've scheduled that interview - said I was cutting it too close and I'll probably miss my flight if I do it. Not sure why I didn't listen to him, 'cause now I've gotta set the record for getting through the airport as fast as possible.

I made it through pretty quick, a couple of kids stopped to ask me if there's gonna be a movie of my latest book, but I couldn't take too much time to talk to them as much as I wanted to. When I finally made it onto the aircraft - by the skin of my teeth too, as soon as I got in the doors shut - I found my seat and right when I sat down the lady came out and started doin' the whole seatbelt and oxygen mask demonstration thing. I just about fell asleep as soon as she finished and the plane took off.

~

I stepped out of the plane and immediately felt the cool air hit my face. I scanned the crowd for Steve and Soda - they're supposed to pick me up 'cause I left my car back in the city. A bright blue sign jumped out at me, and I looked closer at it. It said 'HEY PONYBOY, OVER HERE' in big silver bubble letters. Under the text was a huge arrow pointing to the right. My eyes followed it to see Sodapop standing there, a massive grin splayed across his face. I walked towards them, and felt myself start to smile and mirror Soda's expression.

"Hey, over here!" I heard somebody say in a reporter voice. Oh no, I thought, Please not another reporter. But when I turned to tell the person that I'm too tired to do an interview right now, I came face to face with Steve, holding a fake microphone made out of a paper towel roll topped with a ball of tinfoil. "Mr. Curtis, can you tell us; is it true that you are indeed a massive idiot?" Steve asked, holding out the microphone to me and talking in the same mock reporter voice.

Taking the fake mic, I said in the most serious voice I could, "I think you have the wrong Mr. Curtis. You see, the idiot Curtis brother is standing just to your right." I pointed to Soda who shook his head in an attempt to hide his laughter. I expected him to make some sort of funny comment and pick on me or Steve, but he just slung an arm around my shoulder and said, "man, we were starting to think you ditched us now that you're a big shot writer in New York." I looked over at him to slug him in the shoulder but he grinned widely, letting me know that he was just messing around.

"Alright, we got all the sappy crap outta the way, so if ya don't mind, let's grab all your bags and get this show on the road before the traffic piles up real bad," Steve said, thumping me on the back and tossing the microphone over his shoulder as he turned and ran the other way. "Hey Soda!" he called to us. "I'll race ya!"

"That's cheating!" Soda hollered, throwing his hands up and chasing after him. "You got a head start!"

I just shook my head and walked after them. It kinda blows my mind how two people can still be such amazing friends when they piss each other off so often. I'd get pretty sick of Steve if I spent as much time with him as Soda did, but then again, Soda and I are pretty different, so I guess I shouldn't be surprised.

~

I eventually ran to catch up with Soda and Steve and met them by Soda's car - he did actually buy a Mustang to piss of a couple of Socs, once I started making enough money to help everyone out. Steve and Soda both used it to rent an apartment together and buy themselves nice cars, and Two-Bit just laughed and said that he doesn't need it. Darry of course, refused any sort of help (I had to leave an envelope with cash in his nightstand 'cause he was so stubborn to not just take it) and told me that "my money would be more useful at a charity or somethin'". He was right obviously, and I ended up donating it to my old school to buy some actual books and renovate the library.

Anyway, we got home pretty fast since Steve was driving way over the limit as usual. Soda kept changing the radio channel till he found the station that was playing 'Control' by Janet Jackson, and then belted out the lyrics so badly that Steve said he thought his ears had started to bleed. Steve pulled into the Darry's driveway just when Soda sang out the final note of the song.

"Jesus Christ, what the hell was that?" I looked over Steve and Soda to see Two-Bit standing there, hands on his hips, dressed in another one of his shirts that he'd cut the sleeves off of. He shaded his eyes from the sunlight with one hand and said, "it sounded like a whale was dying!"

Steve hopped out of the car and ran a hand through his hair - him, Soda, and Two-Bit still wear it long, but Darry and I both cut it kinda short a while ago. Darry said that he keeps it short 'cause it stays outta the way when he's working, but I just think it looks better. I'm not a Greaser anymore, but I'm not a Soc either. Took me a while to figure out that I could be somewhere in the middle if I want to. "Nah, just Soda tryin' to sing. We can't all be as talented as I am ya know," he said jokingly.

"What's this about Steve being talented?" Darry had joined us on the driveway with Jade - that's his wife, the one he met in high school. "'Cause we all know that's a load of bull." Steve shot him a glare, but it didn't last for more than a second before he started laughing. That made Two-Bit start laughing too, and Two-Bit has always had this kinda contagious laugh that gets everyone around him to burst out in laughter too. It didn't take long before we were were all in stitches right there on the driveway of Darry's place, just like the old days; a bunch of reckless teens in ripped jeans and grease stained shirts just laughing for absolutely no reason. Everything always felt real simple during moments like those.

Once the roar of laughter had died down, Darry came over to me, putting his hands on my shoulders. "I told you not to take that interview, you tool," was all he said before pulling me in for fast hug and thumping my back affectionately.

I pulled out of his arms and smiled a crooked grin. "Hey, I made it to my flight on time didn't I?"

Soda called out from where he was standing, "yeah I think he set the record for latest last minute passengers on a plane!" Darry shook his head as if I was a 13 year old kid again who'd come home late without calling.

"Come inside, we were just about to have lunch," Jade said as she gave me a hug as well.

I sucked in a breath. "There's actually something that I wanna take care of first."

Two-Bit raised his brows at me, but didn't say a word. "Alright, kid," Darry said, "we'll see you later." I started to walk down the driveway and it wasn't till I reached the end of the sidewalk that he hollered, "and don't be home too late!"

I chuckled and called back over my shoulder, "I'm a grown man Darry!" then, "I'll call if I'm gonna be late!" Some things never change.

I rounded the corner and headed towards the bus stop, fishing in the pocket of my jeans for some loose change. Pulling out a couple of quarters and a dime, I quickly counted the coins to make sure I had enough. The loud sound of the bus gets louder as the vehicle comes down the street and then to a stop next to me.

I hopped on the bus when the doors creak open, quickly saying hi to the driver and then finding a seat on the side. I pulled one of my favourite books out of my bag; Catcher in the Rye to pass the time as I wait for my stop. Cherry always bugged me about how all my books are so worn, with the spine worn and notes written in the margins. She'd say 'books should be treasured and kept in mint condition'. I disagree. Books are supposed to be read and worn, and loved, not left on a shelf to not be touched like a trophy or somethin'.

Faster than I expected - the buses 'round here are real slow - the bus slowed completely in front of my stop. I swung around the pole and hopped outta the doors, putting my book back in my bag - Soda calls it a 'man purse' but Darry says its a satchel. Two-Bit just calls it an 'Indiana Jones bag'. I don't think it really matters what its called, as long as it holds my stuff. Anyway, I got to my destination pretty quick, 'cause it's not real far from the bus stop. I always gotta take a minute before goin' into the cemetery once I get there. It's always given me the creeps, the thought that I'm basically walking on top of dead bodies freaks me out. But this is different. I'm not stopping 'cause I'm freaked out, more like I've gotta prepare myself before going to visit my old friends.

I never bring flowers to Johnny and Dally's graves, instead I bring a couple of stones. I remember once when we were kids, Johnny said that he thinks it's real stupid to bring flowers to a grave 'cause they'll die pretty quick. He said he hopes that when he dies someone will bring something that can't die to his grave, like some nice stones or somethin'. That always stuck with me, so when we started to visit their resting places, I always made sure to bring some nice stones with me.

I reached the two graves, side by side, and knelt to place the stones at the foot of the headstones. Johnny's read, Johnny Cade, Dearly Beloved. We didn't write anythin' else on it 'cause that felt nice and open. Beloved by me, the gang, Cherry, and those kids he saved. Dally's only said Dallas Winston. We weren't sure what he'd want on it. Under both of their names was written in small font, barely visible, but certainly there; Stay Gold. I stood back up and shoved my hands in my pockets, not sure what to do with them. "Hey guys," I said quietly. "I know I haven't come around much lately, but it's cause I've been real busy. In a good way, promise. I don't know if the guys have visited often, but everyone's doing real great. Darry started his own company, and got Soda and Steve to work for him. And he married a girl named Jade, they met in high school. I've been doing pretty great too. My books have been selling real good, and a producer even wants to make my latest one a movie.

"We miss you all the time you know. It's been 22 years, but we've never forgotten about you. There's a dedication in every one of my books for you two. And I know I say this everytime I'm here, but I just want you guys to know that things are better now. Honest. We don't always get the rough breaks anymore. And even when we do, it's okay, you know? 'Cause we take what we can get, and life's a lot nicer when you just appreciate what you have, and stop complainin' all the damn time. Randy started a place for greaser kids to go when they need a place to stay, if their parents kick 'em out or somethin'. Him and Cherry Valance run it together. I think it's a real great idea. Woulda been nice to have a place like that when we were kids." I paused uncomfortably, unsure of what else to say. "I guess that's really all I've got to tell you for today. I'll come visit again next time I'm home." I pressed my lips together tightly and took one last look at the two headstones before turning and walking towards the exit.

~

I took the same bus right back home, only stopping at a small bookstore to pick up a new copy of Catcher in the Rye - I like to have two copies of my favourite books so that I can have one here, and back in New York City. Soda says it's stupid, but it makes packing a lot simpler. Once I got close to Darry's place, I could instantly hear the laughter and conversation of everyone in the yard. The sound of everyone goofing off is pretty comforting. We're all older now, and everything has definitely changed a whole lot. I've been thinking of that line from the poem lately - 'nothing gold can stay' - and I think that I've been understanding it wrong this whole time. Maybe instead of being a sad line, about losing things in your life, it's supposed to make you realize that life is always changing, and we shouldn't focus on when the good things end, but instead enjoy them while they're there. If you had asked me 22 years ago, I would've told you that the gold in my life was the whole gang together, and that it 'not staying' meant that Johnny and Dally had died. Now, I'm starting to realize that the gold can't stay because it's gotta become something else. Like Darry getting married, and me publishing my book. And maybe out of Darry and Jade's marriage will come a kid. And out of my book is a possible movie. And maybe one day I'll direct, or produce. Or maybe I'm just making stuff up and the poem is supposed to be all sad and bitter. But as I listen to the happy conversation out in the yard, I don't think it really matters what the author meant in the first place, because if there's one thing I've learned as a writer, it's that once something is published, it belongs to the readers. And they can choose to see it however they want.

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