Rumble Fish Read online
A Division of Diversion Publishing Corp.
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A portion of this work first appeared in different form in The University of Tulsa Alumni Magazine. Copyright (c) 1968 by Susan Hinton Copyright (c) 1975 by S.E. Hinton
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First Diversion Books edition April 2013.
Another one for David
I ran into Steve a couple of days ago. He was real surprised to see me. We hadn't seen each other for a long time.
I was sitting on the beach and he come up to me and said, "Rusty-James?"
I said, "Yeah?" because I didn't recognize him right off. My memory's screwed up some.
"It's me," he said. "It's Steve Hays."
Then I remembered and got up, brushing sand off. "Hey, yeah."
"What are you doing here?" he kept saying, looking at me like he couldn't believe it.
"I live here," I said. "What are you doin' here?"
"I'm on vacation. I'm going to college here."
"Yeah?" I said. "What you goin' to college for?"
"I'm going to teach when I get out. High school, probably. I can't believe it! I never thought I'd see you again. And here of all places!"
I figured I had as much chance of being here as he did, even if we were a long way from where we'd seen each other last. People get excited over the weirdest things. I wondered why I wasn't glad to see him.
"You're goin' to be a teacher, huh?" I said. It figured. He was always reading and stuff.
"What do you do here?" he asked.
"Nothin'. Bum around," I answered. Bumming around is a real popular profession here. You could paint, write, barkeep, or bum around. I tried barkeeping once and didn't much like it.
"Lord, Rusty-James," he said. "How long has it been now?"
I thought for a minute and said, "Five or six years." Math ain't never been my strong point.
"How did you get here?" He just couldn't seem to get over it.
"Me and a friend of mine, Alex, a guy I met in the reformatory, we just started knockin' around after we got out. We been here awhile."
"No kidding?" Steve hadn't changed much. He looked about the same, except for the moustache that made him look like a little kid going to a Halloween party. But a lot of people are growing moustaches these days. I never went in for them myself.
"How long were you in for?" he asked. "I never found out. We moved, you know, right after..."
"Five years," I said. I can't remember much about it. Like I said, my memory's screwed up some. If somebody says something to remind me, I can remember things. But if I'm left alone I don't seem to be able to. Sometimes Alex'll say something that brings back the reformatory, but mostly he don't. He don't like remembering it either.
"They put me in solitary once," I said, because Steve seemed to be waiting for something.
He looked at me strangely and said, "Oh? I'm sorry."
He was staring at a scar that runs down my side. It looks like a raised white line. It don't get tan, either.
"I got that in a knife fight," I told him. "A long time ago."
"I know, I was there."
"Yeah," I said, "you were."
For a second I remembered the fight. It was like seeing a movie of it. Steve glanced away for a second. I could tell he was trying not to look for the other scars. They're not real noticeable, but they're not that hard to see either, if you know where to look.
"Hey," he said, too sudden, like he was trying to change the subject. "I want you to meet my girl friend. She won't believe it. I haven't seen you since we were thirteen? Fourteen? I don't know though"--he gave me a look that was half kidding and half serious--"you leave other guys' chicks alone?"
"Yeah," I said. "I got a girl."
"Or two, or three?"
"Just one," I said. I like to keep things simple, and God knows even one can get complicated enough.
"Let's meet for dinner somewhere," he said. "We can talk about the good old days. Man, I have come so far since then..."
I didn't stop him from naming a time and a place, even though I didn't much want to talk about the good old days. I didn't even remember them.
"Rusty-James," he was saying, "you gave me a real scare when I first saw you. I thought I'd flipped out. You know who I thought you were for a second?"
My stomach clenched itself into a fist, and an old fear started creeping up my backbone.
"You know who you look just like?"
"Yeah," I said, and remembered everything. I could of been really glad to see ol' Steve, if he hadn't made me remember everything.
I was hanging out in Benny's, playing pool, when I heard Biff Wilcox was looking to kill me.
Benny's was the hangout for the junior high kids. The high schoolers used to go there, but when the younger kids moved in, they moved out. Benny was pretty mad about it. Junior high kids don't have as much money to spend. He couldn't do much about it except hate the kids, though. If a place gets marked as a hangout, that's it.
Steve was there, and B.J. Jackson, and Smokey Bennet, and some other guys. I was playing pool with Smokey. I was probably winning, since I was a pretty good pool player. Smokey was hacked off because he already owed me some money. He was glad when Midget came in and said, "Biff is lookin' for you, Rusty-James."
I missed my shot.
"I ain't hidin'." I stood there, leaning on my cue, knowing good and well I wasn't going to be able to finish the game. I can't think about two things at the same time.
"He says he's gonna kill you." Midget was a tall, skinny kid, taller than anybody else our age. That was why we called him Midget.
"Sayin' ain't doin'," I said.
Smokey was putting his cue away. "Biff is a mean cat, Rusty-James," he told me.
"He ain't so tough. What's he shook about, anyway?"
"Somethin' you said to Anita at school," Midget said.
"Shoot, I didn't say nothin' but the truth."
I told them what I said to Anita. B.J. and Smokey agreed it was the truth. Steve and Midget turned red.
"Hell," I said. "Now why does he have to go and get shook over somethin' like that?"
I get annoyed when people want to kill me for some stupid little reason. Something big, and I don't mind it so much.
I went up to the counter and got a chocolate milk. I always drank chocolate milk instead of Coke or something. That Coke junk will rot your insides. This gave me a little time to think things over. Benny was making a big production out of a sandwich, and he let me know he wasn't going to drop what he was doing and rush over with my chocolate milk.
"So what's he doin' about it? Killin' me, I mean."
I sat down at a booth and Midget slid in across from me. Everybody else gathered around.
"He wants you to meet him in the vacant lot behind the pet store."
"All right. I guess he's comin' alone, huh?"
"I wouldn't count on it," Smokey said. He was trying to let me know he was on my side, so I'd forget about our messed-up pool game.
"If he's bringin' friends, I'm bringin' friends." I wasn't afraid of fighting Biff, but I didn't see any need to be stupid about it.
"Yeah, but you know how that's gonna turn out," Steve put in. "Everybody'll end up gettin' into it. You bring people, he brings people..."
Steve was always cautious abo