Bryon and Mark go to the bar/pool hall a couple of blocks from where they live, and talk to the bartender Charlie. They owe him money, but buy cokes anyways. Charlie says if Mark doesn’t pay his debt by tomorrow, he will hunt them down and beat them up. He says that M&M, a hippie child, has been looking for Mark. When they realize that there isn’t any pool to hustle at Charlie’s Bar, they go looking for M&M and find him in the drugstore. M&M says that his sister Cathy is coming home. They go to a bowling alley, and Mark tries to get M&M to lend them money to pay Charlie, but M&M doesn’t have enough. M&M leaves early, and is jumped by the Curly Shepard and company, but Mark and Bryon catch up with him and beat up the aggressors. Shaken and bruised, M&M thanks them and heads home. In the fight, Mark has snatched from the Shepard Gang the three dollars they need to pay Charlie back. For more entertainment, Mark suggests that they jump a black man standing at an intersection. M&M is disgusted by this suggestion, horrified that the older boys would want to beat someone up simply because he is different from them—especially after the fight that has just ensued. M&M runs off, and Mark justifies his reaction from nervousness after being jumped. However, M&M’s comments bother Bryon on a deeper level.
Bryon and Mark lay a lot of background out in this first chapter. Told from Bryon’s perspective, Bryon’s reflective passages orient readers to the history of the town and the current political climate. Set in the 1960s, the hippie movement was happening, and racism/racial tensions were reaching a head. Bryon and Mark have a lot of limitations and restrictions in their lives: they feel restricted by their neighborhood, which Mark says is a “hood” place on pg. 12 (Charlie, whose propriety is in this neighborhood, obviously pushes against this characterization), as well as their socioeconomic background. As a matter of fact, this first chapter is weighed down by the overarching need to pay Charlie back by the next day, something that weighs heavy on the boys as they hang out over the night. Mark and Bryon’s social positions are also defined by others. When the Shepard gang appears, Bryon tells readers about the gangs which prowl the city and define young men by their affiliations. Socioeconomic backgrounds also play a factor in these divisions, and Bryon, on pg. 24, alludes to tragic incidents not too long ago, when skirmishes along rich-poor lines cost some kids their lives (this is an inexplicit reference to the story told in Hinton’s first novel, The Outsiders, which is set in the same location/world). The strict ways Bryon tries to define people are also a cause of why he and Mark repeat several times throughout the chapter that M&M is “so weird.” M&M’s hippie, peaceful, and colorful behaviors confound the older boys who are used to a toughened, violent life with strict definitions and no fluidity. Hinton introduces a very important theme of this novel at the end of the chapter (pg. 23), when she foreshadows the racial tensions to come. Gender tensions are another point of conflict further on in the novel, as evidenced by Bryon’s treatment, in his mind, of women (such as on pg. 21).