OFF CHAPTER TWO
I need a little more time.
That’s the first thought I found when I felt the rough hands of my dad slapping my face gently, as if trying to wake me up. My eyelids fluttered open to be greeted by hot, orange sunlight that quickly faded to outline a blurred silhouette of a man I didn’t know, one that most obviously wasn’t my father at all.
“Mmm…” I rolled over in my bed, which was miraculously grainy and stiff.
“Young man!” an urgent voice rang. His voice had a slight southern twang to it, just like Dad’s had. But it wasn’t Dad. I didn’t recognize it. “Young man.” He repeated. “Are you okay?”
The person began slapping my face and shaking my shoulders with more urgency. That knocked all the morning grogginess out of me, and my vision became clearer. There was a fat man kneeling over me, clad in a retro pinstripe suit and huge out of date glasses. An old fashioned, red brown mustang was parked behind him, dead in the center of the road, the front door swung out in an urgent manner. He looked worried.
“Young man, are you okay?!” He shouted now. I hit me then that the “young man” was really me. That surprised me. Despite my short cut hair and my boyish looks, I’d never been mistaken for a man before.
“Qué..?” I murmur drowsily, rubbing my eyes. “Soy yo – hold on, I’m a woman, you idiot!” I squeaked indignantly, wincing at my tired voice. “And I’m fine! Why wouldn’t I be?”
He gave me a quizzical look, and moved aside so I could stand up and stretch. I had this weird feeling in my body, like I was detached from everything but my mind. Suddenly, I caught sight of my surroundings. I had just stood up from a concrete sidewalk that lined an uphill road clotted with unkempt trees. I began to panic. This isn’t Phoenix! This ain’t even Arizona! I glance around at all the greenery, and I can taste the humidity in the air. This is impossible! But then logic hit me, and I gleefully remembered that this was probably all a strange dream, one of the rare ones I could control. That explains the weird disconnected feeling I have.
I spotted a couple of stoplights at the tip of the road, which signaled an intersection. I started towards it, but suddenly the retro man grabbed my arm.
“Do you need to go to the hospital?” He said slowly, annunciating every word sharply as if I was hard of hearing.
“Of course, I don’t.” I say, bewildered at the frantic look in the man’s eyes. “Why would I?”
“Because,” he said rather dryly, “I just hit you with the side of my car.”
“What?” I shake out my tired arms, trying to get the pins and needles out of them. “I don’t hurt or anything.” I look over myself for any spots of blood. “I’m fine.”
And, with that, I wave at the man and begin strolling up the hill.
“Young man!” He called after me. “Y-young man?”
I swivel around, walking backwards while cupping my hands around my mouth and yelling. “For the last time, ya old coot, I’m a girl!”
He gave me a strange, alien look, and shook his head before hopping back into his car and driving away. The gust of the vehicle stirred up some dusty brown leaves at my feet.
“What a basket case…” I mutter.
When I reach the intersection, my jaw drops. There were vast groups of shopping centers, only, get this; they were all vintage. I’m talking 50’s and 60’s vintage. All the cars that breezed by were classic, like the kind retro guy had. And all the people in it were classic, too. It amazed me; it was like some oldies utopia.
“This is so creepy.” I mutter thoughtfully. “I need to stop eating pickles before bedtime.”
I turned left and walk past an old fashioned store called Woolsworth, and too many others to name all of them. Two girls, dressed entirely in high-waisted, foofy skirts that matched their bouncy hair walked past me. Just as they were a foot or two away, they started giggling. I look back, and they were both blushing, turned from me.
They really think I’m a boy. I think, a frown forming on my face. I could see where the confusion came from about my gender – I’d never been anything real curvy or whatnot – but I was surprised when the retro guy and the blushing girls didn’t notice my small height. Even for a fifteen year old girl, I’m still pretty small. Maybe everyone here is gay. I think with a snicker, but then shove that thought out of mind. That would be really gross.
An even stranger idea came up in my mind rather suddenly; what if I was a boy? What if this was one of those weird dreams where you change gender?
I quickly looked down. I was dressed pretty unisexual – dark jeans and a plaid button – down shirt. But…
I briskly peeked under my shirt. Glory Hallelujah! I’m still a woman! I am a bit flat chested, which would give people more of a reason to assume me as a guy. But what about my face? Did that change?
All of a sudden, I bumped into something stocky. I looked up and saw there was a guy walking with two of his friends, all three of them in leather jackets and faded blue jeans. He saw me with my finger pulling my shirt in peeking position. He gave me a puzzled look, his friends looking disgusted.
“Just, uh, checking?” I say timidly with a little smile.
They roll their eyes and brush past me. Geez, even in my dreams I’m a dweeb.
I pass by a sloppily parked, squareish car, and I stare at my reflection in the dark window. Okay. So I looked the same, too. The same short, flat nose, the same small mouth and defined chin, the same plain brown eyes that resembled murky water, the same dark, hispanic skin. So why did everyone assume I was a guy?
I sigh, walking around aimlessly and observing the strange reality of this dream. Despite being detached from most feeling in my body, everything around me was so alive and accurately realistic. Generally, in my dreams, cartoon characters and long – lost teachers always seem to make their appearance. But this was actually realistic. I liked it.
A loud, startling roar burst from behind me, and I spun around quickly to see a neat and tidy Corvair filled with a bunch of guys yelling like hooligans. I could make out preppy vests and plaid shirts. How nerdy. I rolled my eyes way up to the sky and then glared at the car, watching them flip off a couple of passerby on the opposite side of the road.
Wait a minute. I thought hastily, my eyes widening. The old cars. The leather jackets. The preppy vests. I was dreaming of life in the world of that book I was reading. I was dreaming I was in the 1960’s. Yes, that had to be it. And no wonder people thought I was a boy. At the time, girls didn’t wear jeans and plaid shirts like guys did.
I grinned. Maldito, this is pretty accurate. I felt like I was literally in the 1960’s – physically, mentally there.
But a few seconds after, when the Corvair turned a risky left, I immediately frowned as a new thought washed over me. If this is the 1960’s… I raked through my memory, all the way back to the beginning of The Outsiders. Didn’t Ponyboy get jumped by Socs in…?
I didn’t even finish my thought when I pounced down the road, trying to follow the fancy car. I kept thinking how dumb this was, how I was probably going to get my spleen ripped out, face punched in, etc, etc, but it was a dream. And I wasn’t just gonna let a bunch of guys beat up a kid without cussin’ em out first, or something similiar.
I ran left down the road, my throat itching for air and my lungs burning. There was a sign signaling the approaching of a movie house, and I knew right away that not only was I in the 1960’s, but I was in the world of The Outsiders, too. The car was parked in the center of the road, the doors open and seats vacant. A mumbled voice came from the distance. Oh, crap. They were probably already beating the poor kid up.
That thought came a little early. As I neared the car, I could hear the voices clearer now. “Need a hair cut, Greaser?”
I tried to run faster, but I had slowed down a bit to catch my breath. Then I could maybe make a sneaky approach and get one of them Socs right where it hurts. My legs felt sore, which was probably the first feeling I had in my entire dream. I squeezed my eyes shut and tried to wake back up. But it didn’t happen, so I had no choice but to be Ponyboy’s meat shield.
I entered the vacant lot, and what I saw would’ve made my skin crawl in fear and disgust if I didn’t think I was dreaming. There they were, the Socs, punching Ponyboy in the stomach and kicking him. He was hollerin’ real loud, and it made my ears hurt.
“How’d you like that haircut to begin just below the chin?”
In all my non-realistic bravery, I grabbed a pebble from the ground and chucked it at the nearest Soc. True to my aim, it hit the target. He turned in surprise, before I shoved him as hard as I could, making him stagger back a bit. He gave me a surprised look, but that quickly subsided into anger.
“Beat it kid.” He snarled. “Or else.”
Two of his friends suddenly came to the Soc’s side. Ponyboy, from down on the ground, cursed, and another Soc kicked him.
“Negativa, hermano.” I reply, trying to look scary. “Ya’ll better beat it ‘fore I kick your culo so hard you won’t be able to sit for a week. And don’t think I won’t.”
The Soc grinned crookedly. “Who do you think you are, huh? Some kind of hero?” He pushed me, hard on my shoulders. I almost fell back, but regained my posture. I could see one of the Soc swinging a switch freely in his hands, already tainted with blood. Mierda. They already got him.
“What part do ya not understand of get lost?” I say, stepping forward a bit. I was nervous as hell, but I hoped it wasn’t showing. “Se peirden, y van morir en un agujero!” I chuckled at the momentarily confused look on his face. I guess Mexican kids weren’t too common back then, either. Oh, how I loved being bilingual.
“I told you once, I’ll tell you ‘gain. You and your buddies better scram before I kick your culos straight back to your Momma’s house.” I kept saying big, tough words, but really they were all empty. I couldn’t fight for my life. I was a wuss, to say the least.
“You think you’re so tough, huh? Huh?!” I backed up a bit as he came near me. Then, his face suddenly twisted into anger and he pushed me square in the chest so hard that I fell on Ponyboy’s leg.
I cursed under my breath. The Soc looked down on his hands then back at me, a mixture of disbelief and guilt on his face. I knew exactly why. He pointed a shaking finger at me and raised his eyebrows.
“He’s – She’s – it’s a gi – “
He was interrupted by new shouts and the heavy pounding of footsteps, and they finally began to run away. Once Soc dropped his switchblade, and I picked it up gingerly. Boy, they didn’t sell ones as sharp as these before. My dad collected blades, and he would’ve loved to see this.
Two men now came running towards us, and I was able to recognize them immediately. Both of them were real handsome, but Sodapop was a bit more stop – and – look worthy and Darry looked like a superhero out of a comic.
Darry leaned beside Pony and shot me an unreadable look. Before I could open my mouth to say something, though, I heard a car speed by. It was the Socs’, and for whatever reason, they had decided to drive around the theatre before escaping.
“Save yourself, Charlie!” one of them screamed. I blinked. Who’s Charlie?
“We’re sorry, man!” another shouted. They were looking at me. “They think I’m Charlie?” I mutter, too low for anyone to hear.
Suddenly, the wires in my brain connected faster than I could think. They were trying to make it seem like I was their friend, one who was with them and helping beat up Ponyboy, and that they’d have to leave me behind. They wanted me to get beat up, even though one of them knew I was a girl. I suddenly felt my palms get real itchy and sweaty and I wanted to explain really quickly but there was a lump in my throat. It was like watching a movie – I had no control and I stayed silent though I didn’t want to. I watched as Darry’s eyes flickered from the Socs’ car to my face, then to the cut – up Ponyboy who was still choking up over his words and then at the switchblade in my hand.
“I didn’t do it!” I said quickly, dropping the blade as if it was a hot potato.
Darry’s eyes burned dangerously, and before I could even think he swung back his fist and punched me square in the face.
“Oh, God!” I cried out. I’d never been punched before, and with all the violence on T.V, punching seems as easy as playing golf and near twice as gentle. But maldito, did that Darrel Curtis pack a punch. I felt warm tears well painfully in my eyes and the entire side of my face exploded and throbbed in pain. I collapsed, and the entire world began to swing back and forth. I let out a choked sob.
“It wasn’t him!” I heard Ponyboy blurt quickly to Darry. You’re a little late, Pone! I think, and let out another weak sob for no reason other than the pain.
I glanced up at Darry, and he still looked like he enjoyed giving me that punch, icy blue eyes showing no regret or apology. I heard more footsteps, a couple of jostled words, and once again, everything was a blur.