It was a rainy day, nothing out of the ordinary for Winter. Darry and I worked on some care packages for Steve and Soda. It was a year ago when they were deployed for the Vietnam war. Originally it was going to be Darry but he’s my only caretaker and Soda wasn’t fit enough to be a guardian for me while a war was going on. I didn’t want either of them to go but someone had to. So, our beloved Soda had to go and fight for us.
“Hey Darry, how much longer do you think this will go on for? We haven’t gotten any letters from Soda or Steve. I really hope they’re okay.” I didn’t like thinking about where Soda and Steve were. My eyes started to well up but I had to wipe them. Although Darry and I have been on great terms for a year, I still felt I couldn’t cry in front of him. Because you just don’t cry in front of Darry.
“I don’t know, Pony. You know on the news they’ve been talking about how brutal it’s been. The odds aren’t in his favor,” he paused and took a deep breath, “I just hope Pepsi-Cola’s going to fight through whatever he’s put through.” He had been calling Soda Pepsi-Cola a lot more often those days. There was a knock and Darry hurried to the door. A familiar voice came closer and closer to the kitchen.
“Hey kid, how’s everything?” It was Two-Bit and boy was I glad to see him, although he was soaking wet. He took off his leather jacket and I was surprised to see he was wearing a snazzy turtleneck instead of a Mickey Mouse t-shirt.
“Hey, Two-Bit. Everything’s fine I guess. We’re just making some care packages for Steve and Soda. Why you wearing that turtleneck? Did your ol’ lady give it to ya or did ya steal it?” I offered him some of the wrapping and he gladly took it.
“Nah man, you know I swiped it from that fancy store on the west side of town. All those socies didn’t know what went under their noses.”
Darry came back into the kitchen after checking on the dinner. “Two-Bit, didn’t I tell you to stop stealing things?” The phone rang and he went to answer it.
Two-bit grumbled with tape in his mouth, “I think so but you gotta remember I have a selective attention span.” He spat out the tape and placed it on the wrapping paper, “It’s a natural ability that I can’t help,” he said while chuckling.
I had to laugh and Darry shook his head before telling us to quiet down. “Hello...Yes this is Darrel...Really?....That’s great! I’ll be sure to tell my brother...Thank you...Okay goodbye.” I could hear the phone hang up. “Ponyboy guess what!”
I jumped up out of my seat. Any “guess what” news itched in the back of my mind that it would be Soda coming home. “What?”
“It was a call from Cherry, she asked if you’d want to go out this weekend.” He grinned like a Cheshire cat. But I was not having it.
“Why? It’s not like she cares or anything.” I was still hurt that she didn’t talk or even looked at me. She kept ignoring me till the day she graduated. A year later she didn’t bother to call. Why would she want to go out? Another knock came from the door.
Two-Bit got up and said, “I’ll get it.” He put down the paper and lopped to the door. Darry and I went back to the kitchen to prepare the care packages. I sat down for one second and I heard Two-Bit yell something from the front.
“GUYS, SOMEONE’S HERE FOR YOU!” Darry looked at me and gestured for me to go. Two-Bit’s body was blocking someone’s face and most of his body but I could see an army uniform. “Ponyboy, someone’s here to talk to you.” He stepped aside and there before me stood Steve.
He looked different but still the same. He had the same blue eyes I could never look into or else his anger would blaze. His thick greasy hair was cut short into a buzz cut. And his build was stronger than he’d previously been. I never thought I’d be so happy to see Steve.
“Hey Ponyboy.” He opened his arms and I leapt into them. “Oohh Ponyboy I missed you. I missed you, I missed you, I missed you.” I could feel this chest cave in and out. I tried to hold it but I just started crying. Steve was home, so that’d mean Soda was home.
Steve let go from the hug and held me by the shoulders. “God dammit Ponyboy, I missed you so much. You look so much like Soda.” I thought Steve hated me but the army probably changed him. He looked away from me and went over to Two-Bit. “Two-Bit, Keith! You’re here!” He went to give Two-Bit a hug and I could see he was close to tears. I’d never seen him cry before, even when he had to break up with Evie for “personal reasons” as Steve put it. And no one ever called Two-Bit, Keith. He’s Two-Bit.
Steve released his hug from Two-Bit and finally came over to Darry. “Darry, Darry, Darry. Darrel Shayenne Curtis Jr. You’re here.” He leapt into Darry’s arms and I could hear him softly crying in Darry’s chest. Darry had to pull him off . Steve was squeezing him a lot.
“Steve, what the heck? Why are you crying so much? And where’s Soda? He should be here.” He looked at Steve intently, “He is here, right?”
Steve broke down bawling.
“What? What? Steve, I’m asking you where Soda is.” Darry’s voice cracked when he said Soda. My heart was starting to race and I had a sinking feeling I knew what happened. It had already been about a year and nine month since mom and dad died and a full year since Johnny and Dally. “Steve, you should sit down,” Darry said while ushering a trembling Steve to the couch.
Steve looked up, eyes bloodshot, face stained, and nose running. No one had ever seen him like this. Not me, not Two-Bit, not Darry, and I wouldn’t think Soda saw him like this either. Besides Dally, Steve was the toughest of all of us. I thought he forgot how to cry at an early age like Dally and Two-Bit. We were all silent except for Steve’s sobs.
A few minutes passed and Steve started whispering some things. At first his words were quiet but he gradually got louder. “The shots, the noise, the screams, the pain. I couldn’t save him.” After a few times of Steve saying this like a chant, Darry found the right time to ask.
“Steve, I’m asking you as a friend, an adoptive guardian, and a brother. Where is Soda? Where’s my little buddy?” Darry’s eyes were getting glossed over and his nose red too. I looked over at Two-Bit and his face was blank; he was staring into the void. I had a feeling he knew what might be true. But Darry kept pushing. I don’t think he could let go of what might be.
Steve got up, still crying, and went outside, defeated. Maybe Soda was in the car, and Steve was just really happy to be back. Please, please, please let it be that.
He came back into the house with an army uniform, an army tag, and the most pained expression I’ve ever seen. More so than Dally’s when Johnny died. He shakily gave the uniform to Darry and had him read the tag.
“Sodapop Patrick Curtis,” Darry said hoarsely. He looked up at Steve. We all looked at Steve.
He gave a sob, shaking like crazy, and in an almost inaudible whisper he said, “I’m sorry,” and collapsed in a heap of tears.
Of all people, Two-Bit came to Steve’s side and put an arm around him. “Steve, Steve, please calm down,” he took a deep breath and in a whisper said, “We are here and this is a safe place. Breathe for me.” Two-Bit demonstrated and started crying too. Why is everyone crying? All these tuff guys I’ve known forever are crying. This is not happening. “Steve please, breathe and tell us or else we can’t help.”
“There’s no way you can help!” Steve was wailing at this point. “There’s no way you can help because he’s DEAD! SODA’S DEAD AND I COULDN’T SAVE HIM! I LET HIM DIE AND I COULDN’T DO ANYTHING ABOUT IT!” He yelled and shook and hyperventilated.
I looked over at Darry and he looked white as a sheet. “Darry, sit down. You don’t look so well.” How was this happening? Everyone was so involved and I was just a bystander. Soda’s dead? My brother was dead? The person I loved most in the world just died? And I wasn’t there to say goodbye?
Darry tried walking over to the couch or a chair but his legs gave out and then I was the only one standing. But I wouldn’t dare move or else I would crumble too. Darry crawled over to Steve and Two-Bit and just leaned on Steve and put his arms around him and cried, “He’s really dead isn’t he? But how could Soda die? How could my Pepsi-Cola just die?” He looked like how Johnny did every day of his life. Small and scared.
I couldn’t bear to see the last half of the gang in shambles. So I took a few steps to the ball of tears and sat with Darry, Steve, and Two-Bit. It would be just us now. I had thought before, if Steve was the one to die, would Soda have been this broken? I had a feeling Steve was going to be even more violent than he was before. They had been best buddies since grade school. And now what? Steve had no one else to go to. All he had was Soda. Yeah sure, he was a part of the gang but Soda was his only confidant. I couldn’t think about this anymore or else I would throw up.
Another 15 minutes passed with all of us on the floor mourning Soda. Steve started talking out of the blue. “We were on the field. Fighting for whatever we were fighting for. I heard someone stepping toward me and I just shot. I shot because they taught me to shoot. And I heard a scream.” He stopped because I could tell he wanted us to figure it out for ourselves.
“It was Soda wasn’t it?” I spoke up but with no voice. Soda was dead. And it was Steve’s fault?
Steve kept on rambling to us like I said nothing. “I hollered, ‘MAN DOWN,’ and I just slugged his body over mine. I dropped everything they told me to keep on me at all times. It didn’t matter because Soda was down. He’s my…” he stopped to cry even more and then wailed, “I’M SORRY SODA! I’M SORRY I DID THIS TO YOU!” He put his head between his knees and kept mindlessly speaking. “He was swept away and I couldn’t say anything because I had to go back out to kill someone else’s friend or brother. But once I got back to my bunker the nurse came to me and said, ‘He’s gone. I’m sorry but there was no way of saving him. Gunshot wounds in the lungs aren’t too easy to survive. He was practically dead when you brought him. The survival rate hasn’t been high.’ And she just left me in my bunker alone. I killed him and I couldn’t say sorry.
“All I could do was carry his lifeless body to the place where we put the casualties. He looked like he was sleeping but his blood was cold. His face was cold. He was cold. But he was beautiful as ever. I’d never thought I’d say that but he was beautiful.
“And I thought about ending it then and there. No one would care. It would be one body added to the death count. But I couldn’t. I couldn’t because I needed to come home to you guys so you didn’t get the phone call that you’d lost another two parts of the family we’ve made. I know I’m not Soda, but am I enough for you guys? I know I’m not your real brother but couldn’t you make room for me?”
Darry got up and left with Soda’s uniform only leaving Soda’s tag with us. He went into his bedroom. I couldn’t see much but from the sounds coming from his bedroom it looked like Darry crumbled onto his bed and started to cry over Soda’s remaining clothes. Faintly and only faintly could I hear him whisper-sing something. “Fly me to the moon....and let me play among the stars....let me see what Spring is like....on Jupiter....and Mars.” It was Soda’s song mom and dad used to sing to him. I knew he loved Soda but I never saw him cry like this since we were in the hospital after Johnny and I ran away. But this time it was loud. Soda meant the world to all of us. And I’d be lying if I weren’t crying rivers too.
I told Steve, “I don’t think Darry would mind at all, you can stay for as long as you need to. We’re all going to need each other.” And it hit me.
My brother, the one person I loved most in the world, died. The brother I spent my whole life with, the most handsome looking person I knew, the one to put a smile on my face when I didn’t even have the will to smile, died.
“Do you mind if I stay for a few weeks too?” Two-Bit interrupted my thoughts.
I started to say yes but of course, couldn’t.
“I’ll take it as a yes. Let me go phone my mother to let her know.” He went to the phone and dialed a number. He sat in the chair Darry had right next to the phone and sat down gingerly. Usually he plops right down in any seat. “Hey mom....Not really....Uhm,” he rubbed his brow and sighed deeply, “Sodapop died.” I could hear a gasp on the other end, “....Please mom, stop....I’m going to be staying at the Curtis’ for a few weeks. Is Emily there?....Can you put her on?....Emily....I’ll be back in a few weeks. Don’t worry, I’m not going to abandon you like dad did. I love you to the moon and back. I’m just going to be staying with Darry and Ponyboy....What about Soda? Emmy, I..I hate to tell you like this,” another audible gasp from the other end, “....Yeah. Emmy, I’ll be back in a few weeks, I just need to help Darry, Ponyboy, and Steve....It’s just us now. I love you....bye.” The other line clicked and Two-Bit buried his face in his hands.
Darry didn’t talk for a week, Steve didn’t sleep, Two-Bit couldn’t stop drinking, I couldn’t eat anything, and the rain didn’t stop pouring. There was a knock one day and Steve was the only one us good enough to answer the door. Darry was still mute, Two-Bit was hungover, and I had a migraine.
He creaked open the door and made a face. “What the hell are you doing here?” Although he was in the best condition, Steve was the crankiest of the four of us. But the way he responded made me want to see who it was. I peeked my head around the sofa. A girl, not much older than 18 or 19, was at the door with a baby. Her blonde hair was tied up and her eyes looked tired and like the blue had run down from her eyes onto her face. She looked so familiar. But Steve knew right away, “Sandy you bitch.”
She ignored his first blow but I could tell Steve had more to say but she had to get some words in first. “I heard Sodapop was dead. And I came from Florida to say how sorry I am.”
“Sorry? You think you’re sorry?! I’M THE ONE WHO KILLED HIM AND HE PRACTICALLY DIED IN MY ARMS! You think you’re all this by coming by to give your sorrows but look what you have with you. A baby. And I can tell you that ain’t Soda’s kid. You are a nasty, worthless, cheater and you come to say SORRY? You come because he was your first ever lover. The first guy to kiss you. But guess what? You cheated on him. AND YOU BROKE HIS HEART FOR WHAT? FOR SOME PLEASURE? He was gonna marry you and you sent all his letters back to him unopened. Go back to Florida you washed up, single mother, because I don’t see no ring on any of those fingers. You never loved him, you just loved what he gave you.” He slammed the door and behind it I could hear a baby crying.
“That was something,” we all turned our heads and even though we knew the voice, we needed to see that it was truly Darry. We were all at a point to where we stopped crying every minute. But any slight trigger could make us cry and when Darry spoke, it triggered all of us. I missed his ruff voice but it comforted and soothed me. “You really put Sandy in her place, Steve. I hate to say it but I never liked Sandy.”
“Darry, will we ever be a whole family again?” I interjected without thinking.
“Pony, come into my room real quick,” he motioned me to his room and I could tell somethings were going to be said that was a true brother to brother thing. I went in and he shut the door behind us. “Pony, you are my brother and you will always be. You know that?”
I couldn’t say anything.
“It’s just that I never thought I could give you all this love an older brother is supposed to give because Soda always needed my help. But he’s gone and we both know when I say that you and I loved him more than we loved ourselves. Just, I didn’t think that I’d lose Soda so quickly after mom, dad, Johnny and Dally. After mom and dad died, I became the parent to all of you. Not just the leader, but you all felt like my children. Johnny and Dally were my kids. And Pepsi-Cola....he was my son and my brother. And he just left without any last words. It should have been me, Ponyboy. Because Soda didn’t deserve to die. It could have been one more year and you’d still have Soda. If it had been one more year Soda could have taken care of you and I would have went.”
“But what about you?” I knew I couldn’t live without Soda, but Darry was my brother too.
“I don’t know, Ponyboy. That’s not how things turned out, though.” Darry slumped onto his bed.
Without thinking I started to sing. Well, more like whispering. “Fly me to the moon and let me play among the stars...” I looked to see if Darry would finish.
Still looking down, he spoke just as softly, “Let me see what Spring is like on Jupiter and Mars.”
“I bet Soda’s having a great time with mom and dad right now.” A lump developed up in my throat but there had been enough crying from me the past days.
Darry finally looked at me with soulless eyes. Like life had been supernaturally taken from him.“Yeah, yeah he is.”
I didn’t know if we’d ever be the same, but Darry gave me Soda’s uniform and I knew exactly what to do. I went through the living room to my room, while taking a good look at who I had left.
I saw two boys, young men I should say. But to me they were still boys because I knew that child-like fear in their eyes. Two-Bit would bounce back. His tears were for conformity. At least it looked that way, I had no idea of knowing. He had deep meaningful conversations with Johnny when he was still alive. Soda was just a pal he could goof off with. Two-Bit would be okay. As long as his old lady and sister weren’t hurt, he'd be okay.
But Steve would forever be broken.
Soda was the one he went to first when his dad kicked him out the first and 30th time. Soda was the one he worked with. Sometimes during the nights Steve stayed over, I could hear Soda comforting him while he let out his frustration and anger over his old man. Steve would take a lifetime to heal, if he’d ever make it that far. I just hoped he’d live till 20.
I made my way to my room. My empty room. Sure, it was full of stuff but it had been empty for the past year. I crept to the closet Soda and I shared. I didn’t want to disrupt the tension or whatever feeling I was feeling with creaky floorboards.
The closet doors slid open till I could find an empty hanger. And when I did, I hung Soda’s uniform, the only thing to keep him alive in my room, next to two familiar jackets. A worn out jeans jacket with a hole burned in the back, and a leather jacket with burn marks on the tattered sleeves, and bullet holes all around.