Ellie is late for school and the guys know something is up.
I feel stupid but I know it won't last for long,
I've been guessin',
I coulda been guessin' wrong.
Ellie didn't know exactly what woke her, nor did she realize where she was at first.
Through sleep-laden eyes, she looked at her surroundings, a nervous feeling gnawing at the pit of her stomach when she realized she was at Buck's. In bed with a sleeping Dallas Winston, no less.
She took a deep breath, and nearly sighed in relief when she noticed the fabric of her shirt peeking out from underneath the sheet. She was pleased with herself to find that she hadn't lost her mind, or her clothes, the night before.
The quietness of the roadhouse was eerie compared to the ruckus she had fallen asleep to; loud enough to rattle your teeth and drive you crazy. She let the stunning silence wash over her as she curled up closer to Dally, warm against the chilled breeze that still blew the curtains around. In his sleep, he was oblivious to the fact that she was even there. He lay on his back, his arms resting on his chest and breathing slightly through his mouth. He looked every bit the 16- almost 17- years he was, and every bit as vulnerable as he should have been at such an age. She knew she would never tell him that, nor would he want to hear it, so she closed her eyes, content with her new secret.
As sleep began working its way into the edges of her brain, a nagging thought kept tugging at her. She knew she should be concerned with something, but she couldn't place her finger on what it was. She rested her head on Dally's arm, feeling him stir quietly at the touch. She wished she could lay there all day long. If only it weren't...
Dally woke with a start as Ellie shot up in the bed. Squinting, he watched her jump out of bed, grabbing for her shoes and jacket. "What the hell?" he groaned, pulling the blankets over his head.
"I'm gonna be late for school," she said, frantically searching for her left shoe.
"That's all?" came his irritated, muffled voice from under the pillow.
"'That's all'?" she asked, crouching down and pulling her shoe from under the bed. He didn't reply, and she threw the shoe at him. "I've got a test today. I have to be there."
"It's one test." His hand groped for the shoe that had just hit him, and he threw it back at her without pulling his head out from beneath the pillow.
She dodged it, letting it hit the floor with a thud. "You've gotta drive me," she stated, flatly, trying to keep her balance as she pulled on her right shoe. "I have to stop by home first and get my stuff."
"I told you last night, Buck's car's in the shop," he said shortly, pulling his head out from under the blankets. Even though he looked like a child with his hair standing up all over the place, she wanted to strangle him.
"If I walk, I'm never gonna make it there on time! I have to be there in 20 minutes." She looked out the dusty, dirty window and spotted Tim's car in Buck's gravel lot. "Tim's still here! Borrow his car."
"Yeah, 'cause Tim's gonna be awful pleased with me wakin' him up at-" He grabbed the clock next to him, squinting to read the early morning numbers. "You've got to be fuckin' kidding me." Still, he climbed out of bed, slipping on his jeans and running a hand through his hair.
"He's gonna slit my throat," Dally grumbled, pulling on a t-shirt and then his jean jacket. "An' all 'cause Miss Ella here, can't skip a goddamn test. You're a real pain in the ass, Ellie," he said but continued out into the hall.
Ellie followed him, trying to suppress the smile that was sneaking across her face. She could only imagine he wouldn't be doing this for Sylvia or any of his other past girlfriends. Not that they cared enough about an education to go to school, but that was besides the point. She knew he wouldn't go out of his way to help them like he was helping her.
Dally paused in front of one of the doors down the hallway and pounded his fist against it. "Shepard."
"He ain't here," replied the groggy male voice.
"Bullshit," Dally answered, still pounding on the door. "I gotta borrow your car."
Finally they heard shuffling on the other side of the door. Tim opened it a crack, glaring out into the hall with a sheet wrapped around his waist. "You got any idea what time it is, Winston?"
"I know exactly what time it is," he snapped, jerking a thumb to his side. "Princess here has gotta go toschool."
Tim opened the door farther, looking to see who he was pointing to. He gave Dally an approving smirk before running his steely eyes up and down, apprasing her with a semi-impressed expression. "Well, well. Ain't you full of surprises?"
When she only crossed her arms and glared at him, he went back into his room and returned with a set of keys. "And all this time, I was thinkin' you was so innocent." He winked at her before slamming the door in their faces.
"Let's go," Dally said, leading the way down the hall.
"What was that supposed to mean?" she asked, looking from Dally to Tim's door, knowing exactly what he was implying, though Dallas didn't bother correcting Tim on his misconceptions. "Dally? Don't let him think that. You gonna set him straight?" She hurried after him down the staircase as he ignored her questions.
I feel stupid,
But it's something that comes and goes.
Tim's Bel Air pulled to a rough stop in front of the school, just as it had in front of her house only minutes before so she could grab her things. She knew better this time and braced herself accordingly.
"Thanks, Dal," she said sarcastically, pushing the door open.
"Hey, you were the one that needed to get here so fast," he pointed out, draping his arm across the seat. She continued to get out of the car, but he caught her hand. "Hey, don't I get a thank you kiss or somethin'? I wouldn't usually get outta bed this early just to drive somebody around town."
"We'll see how late I am for this test," she said nervously, seeing the courtyard of the school was completely empty. Dally tried to kiss the back of her hand with a sly look on his face, but she pulled it away. "Then we'll see about a kiss. Maybe after you pick me up from work tonight?"
"Sure." Dally carefully appraised her before he let out a chuckle. Ellie was about to close the car door but heard him laugh and paused. "What's so funny?"
He nodded towards her. "Good luck explainin' to everybody an' their brother why you're wearin' the same thing you wore yesterday."
Her stomach dropped and she looked down at her day-old, wrinkled ensemble. She had been so worried about getting to school on time, she hadn't thought about what she was wearing, even when she caught sight of herself in the mirror as she raked a brush through her hair and scrambled to find all her books and notebooks.
She was glad her mom was at work and her stepdad was passed out in his room, though they wouldn't have been very concerned with her spending the night elsewhere. They usually didn't even notice. It was going on nearly eight years that she had known Ponyboy, and in those years it became increasingly common for Ellie to stay the night at his house. Abby liked it that way. Ellie didn't have to listen to the endless bickering between her and Jimmy, and Abby didn't have to worry about where she was. Ellie planned on keeping it that way. Abigail's carelessness may have made her a poor mother, but it gave Ellie her share of freedom, which she was thankful for at the moment.
"Shit," she muttered, trying to smooth the wrinkles in her skirt.
"I'll see you later, Dollface." Dally kept smirking at her as he reached across the seat and pulled her door shut, before he sped out of the parking lot.
Today just keeps getting better and better, she thought, irritated. As she turned to walk into the building, she noticed a solitary student walking through the parking lot. He was as late as she was, but she could tell by his cocky strut that he couldn't care less. When he got closer, her stomach flipped at the familiar saunter: Two-Bit. He was close enough that she could see the confused look on his face. She could almost see the gears turning in his head with questions he was going to ask her. Why was she so late to school? Why was Dallas driving her? Why was she in the same clothes they had seen her in the day before? At that moment, she couldn't think of a better reason to turn around and sprint for class.
She jogged up the stairs to Mr. Leery's room, balancing her books and trying to catch her breath before she walked into the room.
Taking one final calming breath, she opened the door, only to have 25 pairs of juding eyes turn to look at her.
"Well, well," Mr. Leery said, sitting at his desk. "How nice of you to join us, Ms. O'Hare."
Keeping her eyes on the floor, she sank into her seat, hoping she didn't look as flushed as she felt. Leery seemed to outgrow that understanding from only a week before. She could hear murmuring coming from the back of the room where, it seemed, the meanest socs sat.
"Frankenstein's late again," one said another quietly, but loud enough for her to hear. "What else is new?"
As Mr. Leery laid the test on her desk, he gave them all an annoyed look. "All right, that's enough."
Ellie wanted to crawl under her desk.
I've been changin',
Think it's funny how no one knows.
Pony was waiting at the end of a row of lockers as Ellie approached him, tucking her new detention slip into her folder.
She fell in stride with him as they navigated through the hall until they parted; her for English, Pony for gym. Unlike the other days, though, she did so without saying a word.
"How come you didn't ride with us today?" he finally asked, trying to read her expression but found he couldn't with the way she kept staring at the floor.
"I overslept," she said. It wasn't a lie. She had overslept. She just didn't tell him where she overslept.
"Really? 'Cause when Steve came by for Darry to give us a ride, he said he stopped by your house to pick you up, and nobody answered the door when he knocked. Or your window."
Ellie shrugged nonchalantly. "Must have been pretty tired to have slept through that." In a hurry to get the focus off of her for a moment, she asked, "Where was Two-Bit?"
"He was planning on being too hungover from the parties this weekend to show up today," Pony explained. "Wonder if he's going to make it at all?"
"Oh, he's here," she muttered. As if on cue, they heard shouting behind them.
Pony looked over his shoulder to see Two-Bit and Steve approaching them. Two-Bit clapped his hand on Pony's back, looking to be in fairly good spirits considering the hangover he was probably nursing at the moment.
Steve slowly studied Ellie for a moment, and Two-Bit let out a low whistle. There was a wide grin on his face as he looked at her. If she had wanted to crawl under her desk before, she wanted to die right then.
"El, who brought you to-" Two-Bit started to ask, but Ellie backed away, hoping to drown in the sea of people walking around them.
"I can't be late for another class," she said to them. "I'll see you guys later!"
She dodged in front of a few cheerleaders and half walked, half jogged to her next class.
I feel stupid,
But I think I been catchin' on.
The final bell of the day rang, and Ellie felt her shoulders droop at the sight of Steve waiting outside her classroom. She was getting tired of dodging the guys, and she was sure they were tired of the lame excuses she had been giving them all day. She even ate lunch in the cafeteria, saying she needed to finish homework. All of them stayed in with her, but the room was too noisy, with too many distractions, for Two-Bit and Steve to grill her much at all. Instead, they wandered around, talking to the few other greasers who stayed in that day. Two-Bit found the sister of the soc who called her Frankenstein and tried his hardest to woo her to go out with him. Ellie could hear him howling with laughter from all the way across the cafeteria. Somehow, it wasn't enough to pull her eyes away from the structure of a cell plastered across the pages of her science book.
She knew there was no way to avoid riding home with them, so she hurriedly pushed her way in front of Steve and led the way out the front doors after the final bell. She could feel him boring a hole through her, and she wasn't even looking at him. Pony and Two-Bit caught up with them halfway to Two-Bit's car.
Nobody said anything, but Steve looked mad, Ponyboy looked confused, and Two-Bit looked fairly intrigued. They all knew something was going on, but they didn't know how they were going to get it out of her. Sliding into the backseat, Ellie stared at the same imaginary spot that she had been staring at all day.
"Why the hell is Shepard bringing you to school?" Steve blasted as Two-Bit floored it out of the parking lot.
That caught her by surprise and despite herself, she looked up at him confused. "What?"
"Two-Bit told me he saw you getting out of a car that looked an awful lot like Tim Shepard's this morning," he said, staring back at her.
Ellie shook her head and said slowly, "He didn't bring me to school. Dally did. He just had to borrow Tim's car."
Steve considered that for a moment and turned back around in his seat to think about it. Just as he was turning around to interrogate her some more, Two-Bit opened his mouth.
"Why'd Dal have to bring you to school? Why didn't you just ride with Darry when he brought Steve and Pony?" He asked the question with a smile on his face. They all knew she wasn't telling them something, and Two-Bit was having a lot of fun trying to drag it out of her.
"I...I..." she stammered, trying to come up with a good enough lie to just get them to leave her alone until she could think of a better explanation. "I overslept, and he was the only one I could get a hold of."
Steve shook his head in confusion. "But-"
Of all people, it was Pony that cut him off. "How come you're wearing the same clothes you wore yesterday?"
Ellie shot him an angry glare. Ponyboy wasn't supposed to be siding with them; he was supposed to be helping her out. "It was all I had that was clean enough," she explained, trying to sound convincing.
Steve and Two-Bit said nothing, but she wasn't sure they had believed her. There was silence for a couple minutes as they turned on to Front Street. Thinking they were finally appeased by her answers, she was angry to see Pony turn in his seat and look at her again. "But why's your skirt so wrinkled?"
"Yeah," said Steve, catching the glare she shot at Pony with a confused look on his own face.
Two-Bit pulled to a stop in front of Joe's Grocer. Ellie climbed out of the car, thankful for the fresh air and to be away from the guys and their own form of the Spanish Inquisition.
"Thanks for the ride," she muttered.
"You got a ride home?" Two-Bit asked. She rolled her eyes as she could hear the grin in his voice. He was really enjoying seeing her squirm like this.
"Yeah," she replied. "I'll see y'all tomorrow."
"Be sure to change your clothes, kiddo," Two-Bit hollered after her. She groaned as she was greeted with the ding of the bell at Joe's store. They weren't ever going to let her live this down, and they didn't even know half of what was going on.
You seem colder now, torn apart, angry, turned around,
Will that whole mad season knock you down?
Ellie hesitated slightly as she stood on the Curtises porch, smoking a cigarette, as the ruckus from the living room drifted outside into the brisk October air.
She didn't want to put herself back on the firing line, but she had promised she would study with Ponyboy. Besides, if she kept avoiding the boys, it would be like admitting she had something to hide. That was how she reasoned it anyway. Either way, though, the guys knew there was something she wasn't being straight about.
Dally had a good laugh at her expense when she had told him about the third degree she received on account of her wrinkled clothes. She continued chastizing him the entire way back to her house after work, even though it only made him laugh harder.
She could only hope the others had found something else to distract them enough to forget about it all, but she knew that was hopeless when Two-Bit picked them up the day after the fiasco. He insisted on congratulating her on her clean, pressed skirt more than once that day, even in the hallways at school, ignoring the embarrassed flush of her cheeks.
Grinding her cigarette out on the cement porch and taking a deep breath, she tried to put the last couple of days behind her as she swung the door of the Curtis house open. She immediately found herself greeted by a louder version of the ruckus she was just listening to.
Soda was slamming Steve into the floor as the door shut behind her, and Soda's baseball cap went flying towards the door. Ellie picked it off the floor and put it on Pony's head. He glanced up from the couch where he was watching TV.
"Hey, El," Pony said, taking it off his head and tossing it down to the floor where Soda was trying, without much luck, to pin Steve. He pulled his legs onto the couch as Steve knocked Soda into the couch, tipping it slightly, even with Pony sitting there.
"You ready to work on algebra?" she asked over the commotion.
Pony shrugged. "Never ready to work on math homework."
She nodded in agreement as Soda finally noticed her prescence.
"Hey, El," he greeted, his greased hair sticking up every which way from the roughhousing.
Steve took advantage of Soda's distraction and gave him a rough shove to the back of the head, quickly moving out of the range of a wayward punch.
Pony clambered over the two boys wrestling and followed Ellie into the kitchen.
"You okay, Ellie?" he asked, flipping through his textbook to the page of assigned homework. "You've been awful quiet these last couple of days."
"I'm fine," she grumbled, digging through her bag for a pencil. "If everybody would stop givin' me the third degree, I'd be even better."
Pony scanned the page he was looking at, daring to glance at Ellie when she wasn't looking. "We're all kinda curious where you were yesterday mornin'..."
He trailed off when she shot a glare at him. "I told you I overslept, Ponyboy Curtis. Why's everybody so interested in the fact that I was late once in my life?" she hissed.
"Just ain't like you, that's all," he replied, trying to hide a smile as he busied himself writing down equations. As mad as she was getting with everyone, he was sure that she was trying to keep something a secret. Two-Bit swore that it was something juicy, and the more defensive she got, the more Pony was willing to believe it.
"Just drop it, will you?"
They set to work on their homework, Ellie in a bad mood and Ponyboy trying to hide his amusement.
At times I do believe I am strong,
So someone tell me why do I feel stupid?
The front door slammed shut as Two-Bit noisily made his way into the kitchen. Ellie groaned aloud, but she was drowned out quite well by the commotion that surrounded her. She didn't need anymore distractions or anymore hasseling.
Soda and Steve sat at the ends of the table, tossing a football to each other over top of the table and deep in conversation over the various girls who visited the DX that afternoon.
Pony had long since finished his homework and was watching TV when Johnny and Dallas had arrived. Mentally, she cursed him for being much better at math than she was. While she was at it, she cursed the day he wasn't in her math class. He was helping to keep her grade afloat, and she didn't want to see the disasterous grade that would result when she no longer had him as her personal math tutor.
Dally had taken Pony's vacated seat and was taking great pleasure in the long, annoyed glances she kept giving him as he rhythmically kicked her chair.
"Hey Two-Bit," Soda greeted, tossing the football at him.
"Hey guys," he replied, tossing the ball to Dally. "Hiya, El. Have I told you how nice you look today? That's a nice skirt you've got on."
Ellie tried to hide how irritated she was getting with them, but there was a clear bite to her words. "You've told me several times, Two-Bit. You can cut it out now. It ain't funny no more."
"Geez, I try to give a girl a compliment and she gets mad at me," he said, walking to the refrigerator and pulling out a beer as the front door opened and shut again. "Sure hope Kathy ain't in the same pissy mood Ellie is."
"Maybe she wouldn't be in a bad mood if y'all weren't bothering her," Darry reasoned, as he entered the dining room. He caught the football as it sailed from Soda's hands toward Steve. "Why don't y'all toss it around outside?" When no one moved, he added, "That wasn't a suggestion, little man. Go."
Steve and Soda pulled themselves out of their chairs, and Johnny and Pony leapt off the couch at the chance to play a little football.
"I'll join you boys 'til I finish my beer, but then I got a date," Two-Bit reasoned as he followed the others out the door.
Pony was almost out the door behind him when Darry called his name.
"You finish your homework?" he asked, pulling a dish of leftovers out of the refrigerator.
"Yeah, it's on the table," he said. Ellie noticed a slight flush to his cheeks and his annoyed tone. A part of her felt sorry for him, knowing how it embarrassed him for Darry to say things like that in front of the others. It only made it that much more obvious that he was so much younger than the others. Another part of her was jealous of this constant supervision he had, something she hadn't experienced since her grandmother died when she was little.
"All right," Darry said. Pony raced outside to join the others, and Darry headed down the hallway to change out of his work clothes.
Dally stopped kicking Ellie's chair long enough to pull out a pack of gum and stick a wad in his mouth. He started kicking her chair again, but this time, the heavy thump of his boot against the leg of her chair was immediately followed by the obnoxious snap of his gum. Ellie snapped her book shut.
"Are you kidding me?" she asked, frustration dripping from her tongue.
Dally grinned as he snapped his gum once more and said seriously, "You know I don't kid."
She gathered her papers and stuffed them into her bag, along with her textbook. "I'm going home."
He leaned closer to her, a wolfish grin on his face. "Home or back to Buck's with me?" She could feel his breath on her neck, and she wanted to slap the smile right off his face. She resisted the urge and slid her chair back from the table.
"I'm going home. I don't care where you go," she said, matter of factly, knowing one place in particular he could go at that moment.
"C'mon, El," he said, wrapping an arm around her waist and pulling her closer. "Don't get all pissed off like that."
She put her hands on his chest, with every intention to push him away, until she took a deep breath, smelling that familiar mix of Kools and cologne. He seemed to notice she was giving up the fight because he grinned broadly down at her.
He leaned down, pulling her into a kiss and closer to his chest. She gave up the fight that had just been so strong in her and kissed him back.
A throat cleared behind them and her eyes flew open as Dally's arms tensed around her. She pushed him away only to find Darry standing behind them, a confused look plastered on his face.
Ellie tried to think of something to say, but only found herself stammering, grabbing for her bag as her face turned bright red. "I, uh...I better find Two-Bit before he leaves."
She avoided Darry's gaze but noticed Dally's cocky grin. She gave him a forceful punch in the shoulder as she hurried passed him.
Ellie rushed outside, thanking all that was holy that the guys had gone to the lot to throw the football around and that Two-Bit's car was being too stubborn to start at the moment. She ran to the car, sliding into the passenger seat as the engine roared to life.
"Do you mind dropping me off at home before your date?" she asked, as Dally stepped out onto the porch. She could see the cocky grin on his face, illuminated by the porch light and the match lighting his cigarette. That wasn't how she pictured the guys finding out she was seeing Dallas Winston. This ain't gonna be good, she thought to herself.
"Sure, kid," he said, roaring the engine to life.
They didn't move and she turned to find him staring at her with his eyebrow cocked.
"What?" she asked, slowly.
"Why are you so red?" he asked, grinning now.
"I-" she was cut off as her door opened and Dally grinned in at them.
"You an' Kathy headed for Buck's?" he asked, looking over Ellie at Two-Bit.
"Sure are. Need a lift?" Two-Bit asked.
Ellie closed her eyes and willed him to just go away, but instead he climbed in beside her. Ellie slid to the middle of the bench seat, leaning closer to Two-Bit than she dared sit next to him.
"Where you goin', El?" he asked, throwing an arm across the seat. "You don't gotta crowd Two-Bit. There's plenty of room over here."
She rolled her eyes and scooted back to the middle of the seat. Two-Bit pulled away from the curb and Dally let his hand fall from the seat to her shoulders. She gave him a warning glance.
"That's a nice skirt, El. How'd your other one get so wrinkled? That just ain't like you, Miss Priss," Dally taunted, rolling the window down and letting the cold air in.
Two-Bit laughed and Ellie said sharply, "Drop it."
"Aw, El. You're neat as a pin. Can't imagine you walkin' outta your house dressed like you was," Two-Bit said, swinging a right where it should have been a left.
"I'm neat as a pin 'cause you're all pigs," she snapped, sitting forward. "Where the hell are you goin'?"
"Oh, I gotta stop and purchase me some cigarettes," Two-Bit said primly.
"Why can't you drop me off first?" she whined, feeling Dally's hand dropping lower than her shoulder. She slapped his hand away and glared at him. "Stop it," she mouthed.
He wore a shit-eating grin and slid his arm slowly across the top of her shoulders. "Cold, El?" he asked, watching the hairs on her arms stand up on end. "Where's your jacket?"
She chose to ignore him and said to Two-Bit, "Purchase?"
"Well, not in the sense of the word," he said smartly. "Kathy'll be pissed if I don't have some she can bum offa me."
"She's gonna be pissed if you're late pickin' her up 'cause you decided to cart me all over town before taking me home," she said.
"I think I like her when she's pissed," Two-Bit remarked, coming to a screeching halt at a red light. "It's fun makin' up."
As he said that, Dally pinched her side, and Ellie let out a startled hiccup as her body jumped. She willed her glare hot enough to at least faze him. When he looked back at her with that penetrating stare and cocky smirk, she punched him in the arm again.
"What was that?" Two-Bit asked, pulling into the U-Tote-M parking lot.
"Dally being an asshole," she muttered, crossing her arms and sitting back in the seat.
Two-Bit laughed and got out of the car. "Want anything, Dal?"
"Kools'll do it," he said.
Two-Bit nodded and shut the door, leaving them alone. Ellie scooted back, giving herself more space and punched him harder. He let out a snarky laugh, and she hit him again.
"What the hell are you doing?" she snapped. "Last thing I need them to know is that I stayed the night with you. Knock it off, asshole."
"Knock what off? He ain't got a clue and he wouldn't care even if he did," he said, toying with her. "'Sides, you're pretty fun to make up with," he added, leaning in to kiss her. She shoved him back and resisted the urge to slap him across the face.
"The way you keep actin' he's gonna catch on. I don't want them to know yet," she said seriously. "What did Darry say?"
"He said to not do somethin' stupid and I told him he probably needed to worry about you bein' the one to do something stupid," he said, grabbing at her legs and sliding her closer to him.
She slapped him across the side of the head as the car door opened.
"What's this?" Two-Bit asked, interested. "Lover's quarrel?"
Ellie flipped her head around, her eyes wide and her mouth almost hanging open. "What?"
"That was fast," Dally appraised as Two-Bit tossed him a pack of Kools.
"Five finger discount is the fastest way to pay," Two-Bit said with a proud sigh.
"Fastest way to a jail cell," Ellie grimaced, trying to hide her blush after his joke.
"But only if I get caught," Two-Bit said, starting the engine without a hitch. "Where to, El?"
"Buck's?" Dally asked, opening the fresh pack of cigarettes.
"No," she drug out, annoyed he'd drug her this far and with the look on Dally's face as he lit up a cigarette. "I gotta go home."
"Okay, kid. Maybe next time. I'm gonna get you to party there sooner or later," Two-Bit declared.
Rolling her head back to Dally, she gave him a long look and said to Two-Bit without looking, "Sure, Two-Bit."
Dally winked at her and slid an arm casually across the seat above her shoulders.
So why ya gotta stand there looking like the answer now?
It seems to me you'd come around,
I need you now.
A/N: So Darry found out in the less than ideal way. How is everyone else going to take the news?