Ellie is closer to going home from the hospital, and receives visitors both expected and unexpected.
Would it keep you alive?
Though I'm closer to wrong,
I'm no further from right.
Ellie fidgeted with her hospital bracelet as the older nurse checked her stitches and bandages.
"How are you feelin'?" she asked, her voice soft and friendly with a heavy southern accent.
Ellie tried to offer a smile in return but knew it only come across as a cringe. "I'm okay."
The woman nodded slow and sad as she handed Ellie her afternoon dose of medicine. "What's the world coming to? A nice girl like you getting beaten up like this." She turned to the door, muttering as she stepped into the hallway, "Such a shame."
Ellie relaxed a little once she was alone again. Yeah, what a shame. It was a shame she was looking forward to being all alone in a strange hospital bed. It was better than when everyone came to visit her. She didn't like the way people were looking at her or fussing over her.
After the scene with Dally the day before, Abigail had refused to let anyone come visit her, with the exception of the fuzz. Ellie preferred to think it was because she wanted to make sure her daughter was okay, not because she wanted to make sure she didn't say anything about the Holdens. It sure was a shame Ellie couldn't convince herself of that.
However, Monday morning, Abigail was back to work, and Ellie was back to having visitors. While the boys were in school, Two-Bit's mother and younger sister, Lucy, had stopped by after taking Lucy to a doctor's appointment. Mrs. Mathews had fawned over her in a way that reminded her of Mrs. Curtis; a stong contrast to the way Abigail simply sat beside her bed, studying her nails or chomping on her gum, seemingly annoyed by the entire situation.
"How are you, Honey?" Mrs. Mathews had asked.
Ellie gave her the best smile she could fake, hoping she wasn't scarring Lucy for life. Lucy was only a couple of years younger than Ellie and still in middle school. She watched as her eyes traced every bruise and cut she had, her nervousness displayed with the way she played with the sleeve of her jacket. Ellie hoped she didn't believe this was what high school was like. She hoped she didn't think that all the socy boys beat up on the girls. She wanted to tell her it wasn't like that, but she held back, afraid she might say too much.
"I'm fine," Ellie replied, as Mrs. Mathews straightened up her pillows and blankets. Her replies were becoming her mantras. She couldn't count how many times she had spoken the same few words.
She had said little more than that to anyone, except when she answered the police questions. Those answers were more along the lines of 'no' or 'I don't remember.' She was beginning to convince herself that she really couldn't remember who jumped her, until she closed her eyes and the entire scene replayed on her eyelids. If everyone would just stop asking her if she was okay, maybe she could put the memories behind her.
Soon after Mrs. Mathews and Lucy left, Joe and Margie showed up.
The Thompsons were the owners of the grocery store where Ellie worked. They were a couple in their late 50s, both round and pudgy, with similar graying hair. Joe had been weary of hiring such a young teenager, but with his only son away at college and Ellie persistently stopping by everyday after school, he finally gave in. His breaking point had been when Ellie made Two-Bit give back a magazine after he had stashed it under his jacket. He hired her on a conditional basis. If she could keep an eye on the hoods that were so fond of shoplifting while she swept or mopped the floors among other menial tasks, she could keep the job. The greasers avoided the store after they heard what she pulled, and even Two-Bit paid honest money at the store after that.
Margie had her arms full of candy and flowers for Ellie. It was a similar scene to when Mrs. Mathews showed up, with her fluffing up Ellie's pillows. They only stayed a short while, having to get back to the store.
Despite her arguments to the contrary, Joe continued to gripe about how it was his fault.
"Never should have sent you home early without making sure you had yourself a ride," he grumbled.
Ellie was relieved when they finally headed to the door. The last thing she needed to hear was how it was anyone's fault but her own.
And now I'm convinced on the inside
That something's wrong with me.
The medicine the nurse had given her was causing Ellie to doze on and off until heard a quick rap on her door. It opened slowly, and Tim Shepard stuck his head in the door.
"Hiya, kid," he drawled, pushing the door open farther as he and Curly stepped in.
"Hi, Tim," she greeted slowly. She had known Curly since grade school, but she was only acquainted with Tim through Dally.
"Man, Ellie," Curly said, looking more and more uncomfortable at each passing moment. "You look like shit."
His remark earned him a hand to the back of the head from Tim. "Don't fuckin' say that to a girl," he ordered.
"I know," she replied, ignoring Tim's comment. She was just glad someone was being honest to her. Curly wasn't looking at her with that pitiful, sympathetic look she was receiving from the nurses and even the doctors.
Curly flopped into the chair that had been sitting beside her bed all night. "You're pretty popular at school now," Curly told her, leaning back in his seat.
"Oh yeah?" she asked, trying to keep her focus on Curly. Tim was making her uncomfortable standing at the foot of her bed, studying her the same way Dally had studied her earlier.
"Yeah," Curly replied. "Word's been gettin' around you were jumped by some soc. Oh," he added as an afterthought, "and Mathews got suspended for the week."
Ellie felt her heart rate increase but tried to keep her expression the same. What was it this time? "What happened?" she asked timidly.
Curly shrugged. "Messin' around. I heard something about deflating all the footballs and basketballs in the gym," he said. "Mathews said he just wanted a reason to get the week off. Guess so you'll have company 'til you go back."
Tim watched her as she started to brush her hair off her face. She paused a moment, as if she had suddenly remembered something. She dropped her hand to her lap, letting her hair hang where it was. Curly had told him what he heard from her friends, that she had been banged up pretty bad and was sporting a long line of stitches down her cheek. He could see the bandage through her dark hair from where he stood.
"Some scar you're gonna have there," Tim appraised, nodding toward her face. He watched her hand twitch on her lap, as she resisted the urge to reach for it. "You'll get used to it. Actually, it'll prob'ly look pretty tuff on a broad like you," he added, leaning on the window sill beside him.
"Sure, maybe I can scare 'em off next time," she replied, sarcasm in her tone. Tim grinned at her. He liked that she wasn't scared of him. But after all she had been through, a fellow greaser was the least of her worries, even if he was Tim Shepard.
"Me an' Curly just came to talk to some of your gang," Tim explained. "See if they wanted any of my boys to help knock somebody's head into the pavement for doin' that to you."
Ellie shook her head slowly, wondering just how far all of this would end up going. "Thanks, but you don't need to do that," she told him, trying to hold his gaze. "I'm not even sure who it was."
Tim nodded slowly, unconvinced. "Sure." Before Ellie could reply, he turned his attention to the door at the sound of commotion out in the hall.
"El-la!" Two-Bit announced loudly as he shoved open the door, Soda on his heels. He paused slightly, surprised by the presence of the Shepard boys. "You break the news to her about my vacation this week?" he asked Curly.
"Yeah, he told me," Ellie answered for him. "What'd you do that for?"
Two-Bit grinned at her and plopped down on the edge of the bed. "You can't be the only one havin' a week off to relax. I'll keep ya company, kid."
"Guess not," she sighed.
"How're you feeling, El?" Soda asked, sitting on the other side of the bed, grinning at her with one of his signature smiles.
She hesitated, choosing her words carefully. She knew they wouldn't get on her case about her answer, but she wanted to offer something else all the same. "I'm feelin' better."
"You look better today," he said, placing a hand on her head and ruffling her hair gently. "Guess that means you get to go home soon?"
"Yeah, the doctor said I could go home tomorrow," she said.
"You going to be back in school this week?" Curly asked.
"No, I get to take the rest of the week off and go back on Monday," she told him. She looked from Soda to Two-Bit and asked, "Where's everyone else?"
"Two-Bit dropped Pony and Johnny off at the little general store down the street a ways. Darry and Steve are at work," Soda told her.
"Hey! Who brought all that candy?" Two-Bit asked excitedly.
"Joe and Margie."
"Shit, do I have to pay for it?" he asked. Walking toward it, his eye caught on something.
"Depends," she sassed, grinning at the coy look he was giving her. "Are you gonna eat it all or leave some for me?"
"Well," he drawled, separating the chocolate from the gum and hard candy. "You let me have the chocolate, and you can have everything else."
"Who taught you how to make a bargain, Mathews? Your little sister?" Tim smirked.
"I learned a few things from her. That little broad can talk her way out of anything," Two-Bit joked. "Guess it pays to be a girl. Huh, El?"
Ellie rolled her eyes and offered him a deal. "If you leave the Almond Joys for me, I'll let you have the rest of the chocolate, and Soda and I won't tell no one else you ate it all."
"Deal," Two-Bit announced, reaching his hand out to shake on it. Ellie shook it with a small laugh and watched him gather candy bar after candy bar and hide them on his person.
"You're a better theif than bargainer, Mathews," Tim appraised, as he watched the candy bars disappear.
Two-Bit flashed a grin as he tossed Soda a Hershey bar and unwrapped one for himself. "Ain't that the truth?"
Tim waved him off and looked at Ellie as he grabbed Curly's collar and pulled him toward the door, "Feel better, kid. See you around."
"Bye," Ellie said quietly, watching them walk out the door.
No, there's nothing you say that can salavage the lie.
But I'm trying to keep my intentions disguised.
Dally grimaced when the elevator doors slid open, revealing Tim and Curly Shepard on the other side.
"Winston," Tim appraised, stepping back and letting him out of the elevator.
"Shepard," Dally said, his voice dripping with annoyance. He was wondering what the hell he was doing there until he spotted Curly staring at him. "What the fuck is your problem, Curly?"
Curly shrugged and moved out of Dally's way as he continued walking down the hallway toward Ellie's room.
"Hold up, Dal," Tim called after him, quickening his pace to catch up to him. Dally stopped and leaned against a wall, glaring at Tim and then Curly as he sauntered up to them.
He nodded toward her room. "You know who it was?"
Dally cursed under his breath and pulled out a cigarette. Shaking the match out and taking a drag, he looked at Shepard and said, "She knows who did it, but she won't tell no one. Fuck it, I know who did it, goddamn punk's been messin' with her since school started."
"Yeah, I didn't believe her either," Tim acknowledged. "Is it a soc?"
He exhaled smoke and watched it dissipate as he nodded. "Can't figure out why she's protectin' that bastard."
Tim snorted in disgust. "Thought she was smart," he said, nodding in the direction of Ellie's room. "Thought she knew the score."
Dally wanted to lay him out right then and there if there hadn't been so many nurses, doctors, and families milling about. "She does know the score," he snapped.
"Yeah," Curly replied, imitating his brother's stance, "Sure seems like it, the way she won't tell nobody nothin'."
"She knows the score," Dally told them through gritted teeth.
Tim could hear the defensive bite in his voice, and he shook his head. That was exactly the reason he would never let a girl hang around his gang. Not girlfriends or sisters. They only got the boys distracted, kept them from thinking straight. Seemed like old Dally was thinking pretty fuzzy right then, only proving his point.
"I got a few guys in school. I can have 'em do something about him if you know what I mean," Tim said, lighting up his own cigarette and nodding toward Curly. "Jus' give me a name."
"Yeah, me and Rick'll take care of it," Curly said eagerly, rubbing his hands together at the thought.
"You and Bradley? Shit," Dally mocked as a he took another long drag. The name was sitting heavy on his tongue, but he wanted to be the one to beat the shit out of Michael Holden. He wanted to see him in his own hospital bed, beaten and bruised. He opened his mouth to say the name, but he stopped himself, remembering what Darry said and that feeling that ate away at him when he looked at her in that bed. He'd gone after Holden before, and she was the one that ended up in the hospital.
"We'll take care of it," Dally told him, looking at Tim's face and seemingly noticing his scar for the first time. "If anyone gets to beat the shit out of him, it's going to be me."
"I respect that," Tim replied, extending his hand. "You boys need anything, just let me know."
Dally shook his hand and said with his cigarette between his lips, "I got it, Shepard."
"I don't doubt it," he said, walking with Curly toward the elevators. "Take care of her."
"She's tuff enough. She'll be fine," Dally called.
Tim didn't know if he really thought that or if he was just trying to convince himself. "Offer still stands," he replied.
Dally watched after them until they stepped onto the elevator. He surpressed a chuckle as Curly looked a younger nurse already on up and down suggestively. She suddenly decided she no longer needed to go to the floor she was headed to and squeezed through the closing elevator doors.
As Dallas neared Ellie's room, he hesitated for a moment, listening to the tail end of one of Two-Bit's stories, followed by his cackling laughter. That wasn't what made him pause though. It was the softer laughter that he heard. As mad as she had been the last time he saw her, he didn't think he'd be hearing Ellie laugh for a while. Leave it to Two-Bit to get it out of her.
When he pushed the door open, he watched her smile disappear as she fidgeted with the empty candy wrapper in her hands.
"How's it goin', kid?" he asked, nodding a greeting to Two-Bit and Soda.
Shrugging, she finally replied, "Going good enough." She seemed to suddenly remember Two-Bit and Soda were in the room as well, happy to have a buffer between her and Dally. "Two-Bit was just telling me about getting suspended today."
"Oh yeah?" Dally asked, leaning back in his chair with an amused look on his face. "What'd you do this time?"
Two-Bit could hardly tell his story without fits of laughter. "I thought it'd be a swell idea to go to gym class today. But then I got there and realized, 'Hell, I ain't playin' baseball with no socs.' So I sorta wandered around until they all went out to the fields. Then I got an idea better than going to gym class."
He stopped to laugh, and even Dally had a grin on his face.
"He deflated all the sports equipment in the gym," Ellie finished for him. She couldn't help the smile on her face either. It was hard not to be amused with some of Two-Bit's antics.
"Well, all except the baseballs, but you can't deflate those," Two-Bit said proudly.
"How'd you manage that?" Dally asked, imagining the looks on all those socs faces when they went to have practice and found all of their balls flat.
"Well, I was doing it the hard way, until the bell rang, and then..." he trailed off, pulling out his older switchblade. He never would have risked ruining the brand new one he lifted. That one was his pride and joy.
Dally shook his head, still grinning. "You're crazy, man."
"You shoulda seen Coach Newsome. Man, he was all kinds of pissed. Thought he was gonna have a heart attack, as red as his face got when he found me in there, with all those balls shredded." He nudged Ellie's arm. "Had to do something to get you in a better mood, El."
"I guess it worked," she told him as Johnny and Ponyboy walked into the room.
"I see Two-Bit's letting you in on the prank he pulled today," Pony said, happy to see them all laughing and smiling. It was a scene completely different from the one just two nights before.
Soda glanced at the bag in his hand. "Whatcha got there, Pone?"
He passed it to Ellie, an almost guilty look on his face. "Johnny and I brought you a book."
Her brow creased as she tried to read his expression. However, the moment she pulled the book out of the bag, she remembered. Gone with the Wind.
"Oh," she said, realization crossing her face, turning her lips into a frown. "Don't tell me you guys missed the movie 'cause of me."
Pony shook his head. "No, Darry made us go yesterday. Just wanted to get us out of the house, I guess. Sorry we went without you, El."
Dally watched Ellie give Pony a genuine smile. They all knew how much she had been looking forward to seeing that movie. She actually seemed happy about the fact that they saw it without her. It kind of pissed him off that she wasn't mad about it.
"You're just gonna have to tell me all about it," she replied, flipping through the book as she tried to surpress a yawn.
Soda seemed to notice the yawn before the others as he glanced around the room. "Looks like you've had just about as many visitors as you can handle for one day, huh, Ellie?"
She nodded. "Guess it's been a busier day than I thought."
"Why don't I take you boys home?" Two-Bit suggested, grabbing a piece of chocolate from his pocket and tossing it to Ellie with a grin. "Let El get some sleep."
"We'll tell you all about the movie tomorrow," Pony assured her.
"You'll have to tell us about the book," Johnny added with a small grin as they all headed for the door.
"You comin', Dal?" Two-Bit asked over his shoulder.
"No, I'm hanging around for a while. See y'all later," he replied, keeping a steady gaze on Ellie.
When the door shut behind the others, she sighed. "You staying just to fight with me some more?"
"That ain't why I'm staying," he muttered, even though that was really what he wanted to do. He noticed as she visibly relaxed and played with the wrapper on the chocolate Two-Bit had tossed to her. "How's come you weren't mad at Pony and Johnny for going to see that movie without you?"
She shrugged. "They wanted to see the movie too, and I would've felt bad if they didn't see it just because I couldn't go." Her voice got quiet and she said, "I didn't want to ruin everyone's weekend."
"Who gives a shit?" Sometimes Dally just didn't understand broads. "We all know how much you wanted to see it."
Ellie leaned back in the bed, closing her eyes. It had been a long day already, and Dally arguing with her was making it that much more tiring. "I'm sick of everybody going out of their way for me the last couple days."
She was quiet for a moment. Dally was wondering if she had already fallen asleep when she mumbled drowsily, "I thought said you didn't stay to fight with me."
"I didn't," he lied. It sounded like he were a million miles away, but when he took her hand in his own, she knew he was right there beside her
She forced her eyes open and turned to face him where he sat beside her. One finger traced a scratch on the top of her hand.
"When do you get to go home?" he asked, still looking at the scratch.
"Tomorrow morning sometime," she said, watching him. "You might want to be out of here before my mom shows up."
He nodded slightly, still transfixed on her hand. "Yeah, no shit."
"You okay?" she asked softly, hesitently.
He finally looked up at her. Sitting back, he said, "You're the one in the hospital bed and you're askin' me if I'm okay?"
Ellie gave him a tired smile and sassed, "I thought you said you didn't come here to fight with me."
"Go to sleep, Miss Priss," he told her, a hint of a smirk on his lips.
"You don't have to stay if you don't want to," she told him as her eyes fluttered shut. "I ain't going to notice none."
"Yeah," Dally said. He just didn't want to let her out of his sight. If something else was going to happen to her, he was going to be there to make sure no one touched her again. He should have been there in the first place.
He waited until her breathing was deep and even before he reached for her hand again and held it in his own. "Sorry, kid," he said to the air.
He wondered if he only imagined in when she squeezed his hand back.
I'm beaten down again,
I'm weaker now my friend,
Beaten down again,
I've failed you.