Thanks to Dally and Steve's public show at the football game, Ellie is as nervous about her cousin as ever.
I just need to know that I can breathe.
I don't need much of anything,
But suddenly, suddenly.
"You've been quiet lately," Abby observed as she steered the car toward Joe's Grocery where Ellie worked.
Ellie shrugged and didn't say anything as she watched houses fly by. Last night had been a disaster. She had been up half the night wishing she had gone to the football game, though that didn't even guarantee that Dally and Steve would have kept from jumping Michael and getting themselves jailed.
"What's up with you?" Abby asked, slightly annoyed with the silence.
Ellie glanced at her mother, studying her for a short moment. She wanted to tell her. Really, she just wanted to tell someone who would understand. Her mom was the only one she could talk to without the rumors flooding the school.
"Tony's in town," Ellie told her, quietly.
She could almost hear her teeth grit with the mention of Tony Holden.
"And why is that?"
"For the game, I think," Ellie replied, staring at her hands. Talking to her mother was never easy, and talking to Abby about her father was near impossible.
"I thought you said you didn't go," she said.
"I didn't, but my friends did." Ellie paused for a second. "What was he like when you were in high school?"
"Yeah. What'd he do when he found out you were gonna have me?" Ellie asked. "Was he real mean to you?"
Abby bit her lip and pulled the car into the little parking lot behind the grocery store. Putting it into park, she hesitantly turned to her daughter.
"Actually, he was pretty decent to me. For the most part anyway. It was his brother and their daddy that made my life a living hell," she explained. "Don't get me wrong. Tony wasn't a prince by any means. He never had any intention of helping me out, but it was Frank that kept comin' around telling me that I had to stay away or else."
"Or else what?" Ellie asked timidly.
Abby shrugged, brushing loose strands of bleached hair out of her face and looking at herself in the rearview mirror, checking her makeup. "He never said, and I dropped out so they never had to follow through with nothin'."
"You think that if Frank hadn't been around that Tony might have helped you?"
"There ain't a snowball's chance in hell that would have happened. Tony was hard up that no one even knew about us, and Frank was so bad you woulda thought it was his reputation at risk."
"Why did their dad give you a hard time?" Ellie asked, finding it difficult to think of these people as her relatives. Some family she had.
"You mean besides Tony being a few months from graduating, getting' into this mess with a greaser girl?" Ellie simply nodded, trying not to cringe at being referred to as a mess. "Their daddy was the football coach back then. You think Tony's a legend at that school? That whole family's full of football legends 'round here. But I guess gettin' a 16-year-old girl pregnant didn't fit so well into that legend." Abigail glanced at the clock. "What's this about anyway?"
Ellie shrugged. It was about finding out why she wasn't wanted. It was about finding out why people wanted to make her life hell for her mother's mistakes. "Michael's still giving me a hard time," Ellie finally confessed. She wondered how much harder it would become now that Dally had gotten involved.
"He hurtin' you?" she asked, concern edging on her voice. It sounded foreign in her tone.
"He just hassles me, but some things happened last night, and I think he's gonna be pissed off about it all," she explained, not noticing the way she was nervously wringing her hands in her lap.
Ellie shook her head, shrugging the incident away and pretending it hadn't been eating away at her all night long. "Nothing much, I guess," she responded with faux confidence.
"I can't really do anything but tell you to try and stay away from him. Frank's his daddy and it sounds like he's got his temper," Abby told her.
Ellie listened to her mother's advice but didn't really hear any of it. She had other concerns. "If they were such big shots at school, even then, why did anybody care what they did?"
Abby looked at her like she was stupid. "This soc-grease fight ain't exactly new, you know? It's been goin' on for as long as I can remember. Even back then, greasers weren't good enough to look at those football players. If word got around that Tony Holden got some poor tramp knocked up, that woulda been the end of that Holden name everybody's so crazy to flaunt around." Abby studied her nails as she added, "Forget about me, who's name got drug through the mud because of all of this."
Ellie stared at the dusty dashboard. Even if she had felt that way her entire life, it hurt so much more to hear it from her mother that she was the cause of her burdens.
Abby seemed to catch on to the silence, because she reached out and tucked a strand of hair behind Ellie's ear. "Cheer up, kid. My name wasn't so great before all this either."
Ellie knew coming from her mother that was supposed to be comforting, but it didn't help anything. She remembered the way Abby had jumped at the chance to marry Jimmy, and Ellie knew it had nothing to do with love. Nothing ever did. Jimmy was her opportunity to shrug that name off, to be someone else for the first time in her life, even if she still had to look at her mess every day. Jimmy didn't want to adopt Ellie anymore than she wanted him too. For that, Ellie kept her mother's maiden name as well as the history that came with it.
"You got a ride home?" Abby called to her as she pushed the door open to leave.
Ellie nodded and shut the door. She didn't, but she wasn't in the mood for questions, nor was she in the mood for being a burden to anyone else at the moment.
I am small, and the world is big,
All around me is fast moving.
Working was usually good at keeping her mind occupied, but Ellie couldn't shake the conversation she had with her mother or her nervousness of how Michael would react. Dally and Steve put themselves into the middle of this, and Ellie knew they had made it worse by trying to make it better. Getting third parties involved always made things worse; she learned that the hard way.
The bell over the front door chimed, and Ellie looked up, her stomach dropping heavily to the dingy laminate floor. There were three of them, all sharply dressed and looking obviously out of place in a little East Side grocery store.
She could see the bruise that had set on his face from all the way across the store. His eyes were disturbingly calm, scanning each and every aisle for her.
"Can I help you boys with something?" Joe asked from his place behind the counter.
Ellie backed up and walked toward the back of the store, holding her breath as she listened to one of them respond. Pressing her back against a shelf she waited, hoping they would just leave before anything happened.
After a few minutes, the bell chimed again, and Ellie crept back to the front of the store. As she looked around the shelves, Michael was just walking out the front door. He looked back and saw her standing there.
His eyes were cold and filled with unfathomable hate as he raised a hand and pointed at her. He mouthed something, but Ellie was too transfixed on the coldness in his eyes to try and understand what he said.
I am young, and I am free,
But I get tired, and I get weak.
A horn honked, and Michael turned around, slidding into the driver's seat of his Camaro. He gunned the engine, flying off down the street.
"What was the deal with that?" David asked. "You didn't even buy any liquor."
"It wasn't 'bout the liquor," Bob laughed. "That greaser girl he's messin' with works there."
"What's up with you and her?" David asked, watching Michael with a crooked grin.
"She got in my way and I'm about to get in hers," he said, his voice low and dangerous.
"Those guys that started shit last night are friends with her," Bob said, with a snort.
"No shit? That little broad's got friends like that?" David appraised.
"Yeah, you'd never guess it by lookin' at her," Bob added.
"Guess not," David replied. "You sure you want to mess with her?"
Michael glared at him but didn't say anything. He just kept driving and thinking about what he was going to do. She told. Plain and simple, she told her greaser friends everything, and she was going to pay the price. He had gone out of his way to scare her into silence, but now the rumor would be floating around Will Rogers by Monday morning.
"She's just a girl, Michael," David said, sensing the animosity from his friend. "And a kid at that. What's the big deal?"
"She's a greaser, that's the big deal," Michael grimaced. To him, she wasn't a girl. She wasn't even a person. All he saw was a kid who was a threat to his family's name and his own reputation.
I get lost and I can't sleep,
But suddenly, suddenly.
The sun was only just setting when Joe told her to go on home. Home wasn't more than a couple of miles from the store, and she loned it all the time. Her stomach was still twisted in knots over the threat Michael made, but it had been hours ago, so she tried to hold her worry back until Monday morning. It was Saturday night after all; she figured he was probably out boozing up at some beer blast with his friends.
Ellie turned left onto Front Street, seeing that the record store and most of the little family-owned hobby shops were already closed. The street and the sidewalks were empty, and Ellie was debating with herself if she should cut back across Sutton and meet up with Soda and Steve at the DX rather than walk the rest of the way by herself.
As the red Camaro turned the corner, she could suddenly hear her heart beating deafeningly in her ears as the blood drained from her face. The choice was quickly made for her and she turned and started running toward the DX as fast as her legs could carry her.
Somewhere behind her, she heard the car stop and the door slam. Feet pounded on the pavement behind her, gaining ground faster than she could ever hope to.
He yelled something she couldn't hear as his hand met her back and shoved her forward. Ellie went sprawling to the sidewalk, landing on her arm, skinning it from her elbow to her wrist, and skidding to a stop. She struggled to make it to her feet and run, but he grabbed her by the arm and yanked her violently to her feet.
"Come here," Michael growled, giving her arm a rough tug and shoving her into an alley way between two buildings. He pushed her backward into the brick wall and towered over her, blocking any possible exit.
"I told you not to open your fuckin' mouth, Grease," he slurred dangerously.
The thick odor of alcohol rolling off of his tongue caused her panic to escalate. Things always got worse when people were drunk. There were plenty of examples in their neighborhood of the things that happened. She had seen enough in her own living room, even without seeing the results on Johnny or Steve's faces. Suddenly the struggle to speak was almost as difficult as the struggle to breathe.
"I-I didn't say nothin'," she stammered, flinching as he slapped her sharply across the face.
"Bullshit," he sneered. "Then what the hell happened last night? Huh? That wouldn't have happened unless you opened your mouth."
"I swear to God, I didn't," she pleaded, trying to keep the panic out of her voice. She didn't want him to know just how afraid of him she was.
He grabbed a handful of her hair, smirking as she winced at the sudden attack. "I'm gonna teach you a lesson, Grease. When I tell you to shut your mouth, I mean that you better shut your mouth," he told her, his voice lowering into a dangerous hushed tone. "You better believe no one's gonna find out who your daddy is."
No one finds out, he could hear his father tell him. No one.
He swung a punch, smashing it hard into her face. Ellie cried out, the force behind his punch stunning her, causing her knees to go weak as she leaned against the wall for support.
Blood came pouring out of her nose almost on contact with his fist, and something ignited behind his eyes. He swung another and another as he fought her pathetic attempts to push him away from her. He hit her again, and this time it was enough to knock her to the ground.
The hatred had been brewing for ten long years. Ten years of listening to his father tell both him and Paul to keep the family name alive, to keep it from being drug through the dirt. Tony didn't do anything about it, nor did his father. Paul had the chance but did nothing. To find out that Darrel Curtis was friends with the girl pushed everything to the breaking point. Michael suddenly carried it all on his shoulders, and he was going to make sure that no one ever found out he was related to trash like her.
How does it feel
To be different from me?
Are we the same?
How does it feel?