I heard this song on the radio on the way to work and the story popped into my head. It's a songfic...eventually!
Disclaimer: I don't own any of the characters in this story (They belong to S.E. Hinton) and I don't own the song "Can't Stop Loving You" by Phil Collins.
**Buck's Tavern 4:30 a.m.
The thread-bare towel that usually blocked most of the sunlight from entering the room billowed slightly in the gentle night breeze. He hadn't even bothered to pull the make shift curtain shut tonight. He would need to be awake before the sun even had a chance to reach his eyes. Considering that it was almost dawn, and he'd slept all of about half an hour, Dallas Winston was not concerned about waking up in time. Trying to sleep anymore was proving useless as another wave of nausea passed over him.
How much did I drink last night, he wondered vaguely. It didn't seem that he'd had enough to make himself sick in the morning. He'd actually taken it pretty easy last night. Anyway, this didn't feel like a hang over. He just felt sick.
He sat up slowly and pulled on a t-shirt. Then he carefully got up and walked over to the window and looked out at the seemingly peaceful landscape below. All the night time noises, most of which came from the building he was in, had stopped and everything was quiet. From his window in one of the spare rooms in Buck's Tavern he could see the city skyline, some houses and the water tower that marked where the train tracks came through town. He just stared at it for a few minutes. It would be quiet like this for a while, even after the sun came up. No one here would be up before noon, except for him. And Johnny.
As that thought entered his head, the nausea came rushing back so strong he barely had time to make it to the bathroom.
** 2 weeks earlier
Dally found him one day sitting there on an old wooden crate behind The Dingo, poking at some rocks with a stick. His t-shirt was ripped at the neck and his face was cut up and bruised. He didn't see Dally at first and Dally just stood and watched him for a moment. He felt the anger building inside him, an anger he had felt so often he was almost becoming numb to it.
"Johnny," he finally said.
The dark haired boy looked up in surprise, not having expected anyone to find him there, then immediately looked down, hoping to hide the shame written all over his face.
Dally walked over to him and put a hand on Johnny's shoulder. "Your old man?"
Dallas really hadn't needed to ask . Johnny never got in fights with anyone, never left their territory alone anymore. Dally and the rest of the gang had seen Johnny like this so many times. He took Johnny's arm.
"C'mon, " he said softly. "Let's go get these cuts taken care of."
They walked in silence to the Curtis's house. Dally knew no one would be home yet, which would save Johnny from having any more attention drawn to him. They would all mean well, but Dally knew he just didn't like to talk about it.
They walked up the steps and went into the house. They knew they were welcome anytime, day or night, whether anyone was home or not.
Johnny headed for the kitchen and put some ice in a towel for his bruises. Dally took some things out of the medicine cabinet and got a wet cloth.
They sat down at the kitchen table. Dally noted that Johnny had been unusually quiet and he seemed preoccupied with something- something other than his parents' cruelties. And he didn't look as... defeated as usual.
"Something on your mind, kid?" Dally asked as he dabbed the wet cloth on Johnny's face.
Johnny looked at him. His expression changed suddenly from one of carefully masked determination to one of guilt. He looked down.
Dally didn't push him. He knew that Johnny wouldn't talk unless he wanted to.
After a fairly long silence, Johnny looked up. The determined look was back.
"I've been thinking about getting out of here," he blurted out. "I have it planned out and I think I need to leave. For a while."
Dallas stopped tending to Johnny's wounds and stared at him in disbelief. "What?"
**Buck's Tavern 4:35 a.m.
Dally sat on the edge of the tub, his head in his hands. He was still shaking and his stomach was not showing any signs of settling down.
'Great time to be getting sick, ' he thought miserably.
He stood up slowly and walked back into the bedroom. He laid back down on the bed and stared at the peeling wallpaper.
There has to be some other way, he thought desparatley. There has to be.
But he knew there wasn't.
"You're going to run away?" Dallas wasn't sure how to react to Johnny's statement, but part of him was angry.
"I... I don't know.. I guess."
Dally's voice rose a bit and his eyes narrowed. "That's great. Where do you think you're going to go?"
Johnny sighed and looked pleadingly at him. "Dal..."
"No! This is crazy. I don't know where you think you're going, but the fuzz will eventually pick you up if you don't freeze or starve to death first and-"
"Dally! I have a place to stay. I've been writing letters to my cousin, Matt. We were real close about 5 years ago. He asked me how things were going and I told him. I don't know why, I guess it was easy to talk about everything when all I had to do was write it down. I told him everything. And he told me I need to get out of here and I think he's right!"
Dally was staring at him like he had two heads. It was too much for him to process all at once. And it was really making him mad. "Your cousin. What the hell, Johnny. Why do you need to go live with some family member you hardly know? You don't think your parents are going to send social services after you?" The minute that came out of his mouth he knew the answer.
Johnny looked almost amused at that, but he was getting too nervous about Dally's temper to be amused about much of anything.
"No, I don't. And even if they did, they only have two years to find me. Once I turn eighteen, they can't touch me anymore, " he said with conviction.
Dally was pacing the floor and running his hand through his hair.
Johnny continued. "Anyways, he's got a great job- he runs his own business and he said I could help out and he's got plenty of room and-"
"Stop it! Johnny, this is crazy. You can't just leave. You can't just... all of a sudden... decide that you're leaving and then-" Dallas was stammering. He didn't know what to say. And that was making him even angrier. At first, he thought Johnny was just toying with the idea, but it was becoming quite clear that he had every intention of leaving Tulsa.
"Dal, would you rather I stay here and keep getting beat up by my old man a few times a week and the socs on the other days? I... I just can't take much more of this." Johnny was afraid to look at Dally now. He knew if Dally pushed too much, he'd do whatever he said. If Dally said he wasn't going to go, he wouldn't go. He was already starting to lose his nerve. Maybe this idea was crazy...
But Dally was thinking about something else at this point and he was looking at Johnny with his arms folded. "Where exactly does this cousin of yours live?"
Johnny's stomach went cold.
"Well?" Dally demanded.
"Near Harrisonburg... Virginia"
Dally just stood there, stunned.
"Dally," Johnny almost whispered. "This is really hard..."
Dally turned and stormed out of the house, slamming the door.
**Buck's Tavern 4:40 a.m.
As he lay there, he thought about Johnny in Virginia.
He'll be happy, Dally thought. He'll be safe.
He thought about Johnny not having to worry about someone hitting him every time he turned around. Maybe he'd like working with his cousin. Maybe he'd get to see the ocean. Dally had seen the ocean once when he was in NY. He noticed as he lay there thinking, that his stomach was settling a little. He kept thinking. Maybe Johnny would be really happy. And no one will hurt him anymore.
And he tried to picture what it would be like after Johnny was gone. But he couldn't. He just felt an empty nothingness and his stomach began to feel rotten again.
He didn't have a hangover. And deep down he knew he didn't have the flu.
Johnny was leaving.
And it was killing him.
Johnny was sitting in the vacant lot that night staring at a small fire he'd made to keep warm. Dally could see him even from where he stood on the other side of the street.
He'd brooded for the rest of the day, but, for once in his life, he'd finally tried to think of the whole situation from someone else's point of view. And by nightfall, he'd decided he needed to talk to Johnny.
As Dally approached the small fire, Johnny heard him coming and jumped a little.
"It's just me," Dally said looking at his feet. He sat down beside Johnny.
Johnny stared at him. He was surprised Dally was even talking to him after how mad he'd been.
"So, uh.." Dally took a long drag on his cigarette. " This cousin of yours... Matt, whatever his name is...what's he do?"
Johnny's mouth dropped open. "You... your OK with me going?"
"I didn't say that," Dally snapped.
Johnny looked down.
Dally scowled. He was still a little mad, but he knew Johnny felt terrible, and he just couldn't stand that. "Look, Johnny, I'm not mad... "
That was kind of a lie, Dally thought, but he went on. "You just threw that whole thing at me so fast and I didn't have any time to think about it... like you did. Virginia's a long way from here. I just don't want to see you get hurt is all, I mean I don't like to see that here, but there, you'd be so far away..."
Johnny tried to hide his surprise at how Dally was talking. He usually didn't care about anyone but himself, but he seemed genuinely worried. "Dal, nobody's going to hurt me there. That's why I need to go..."
"I'll come back, Dal. Two years, that's all I need."
Dally looked at the fire. "That's a long time, Johnnycake."
They sat in silence for a while. Then Dally asked, " Have you told the boys yet?"
Johnny shook his head. "I don't know if I should. I told you because I didn't think you'd try to talk me out of it... and I need something that I think you could probably help me with."
"Matt's sending me all the cash I need to get a train from here to his home town. But they're going to ask to see some ID, and I'd rather not leave a trail..."
"So you want some fake ID."
"Yeah... I don't know. Man, this whole thing is crazy isn't it." Johnny pushed his hair back and sighed.
Dally looked at him finally. "Johnny, you found a way out. It took guts to get even this far. If this is what you want, I'll get you what you need."
Johnny looked up gratefully. "I don't know what I want Dal. But I know if I stay here..."
"Oh, to answer your question, Matt is a veterinarian. He just graduated and started his own clinic." Johnny stated.
For the first time in a while Dallas Winston grinned. He thought of Johnny spending his days taking care of puppies. "Johnny the vet."
"Vet's assistant" Johnny corrected. "And not really, I don't know enough about that kind of stuff. I'd just be helping out."
Dally just shook his head still smiling.
**Buck's Tavern 4:45 a.m.
Dally paced the room almost franticly. What is wrong with me, he thought as his heart raced. He was settling his stomach by sheer will and not doing a great job, but now his head was throbbing he could feel his heart beat. He was looking for something at the moment. He wanted- he needed to give Johnny something, but as he circled the small room, he realized how little he actually had. Switchblade? No, Johnny has one. Money? He has that too, and Dally hardly had any money anyway.
He dug around in the drawers of his dresser. Great, he thought. Here you go Johnny, here's a sock to remember me by.
And then he spotted something. It was an old photo in a little black frame of the gang hanging out in the lot. They were all in it. Pony's mom had taken it. She'd given it to Dallas because he'd stayed out of trouble for a whole week or some crazy thing like that. He smiled a little when he looked at it. He'd been about 13 at the time. Johnny was about 12. It seemed like a hundred years ago. He'd kept that picture because it reminded him of better times. When the gang was younger, when the Curtis parents had been alive. It reminded him that he had a good side. Mrs. Curtis had seen that.
He took the picture out of the drawer and held it for a few minutes. He would give this to Johnny. It was the only thing he had that was of any sentimental value. Or really of any value at all.
It's going to be all right, Dally told himself for at least the tenth time as he put the picture in the pocket of his coat.
Within a few days, Dally had Johnny's new identification. He handed it to him one afternoon while they were waiting for Pony to come home from school.
"Here you go, Johnnycake. It's the new you."
Johnny took the envelope hesitantly.
"Go on, open it!" Dally seemed almost excited.
Johnny pulled out some paper work and a photo ID card and read the name.
"Yep. That's right." Dally looked quite proud of himself. "I made you my kid brother- officially."
Johnny looked at him in admiration. Dally was smoking away proudly on his cigarette. To him it was all a joke on the authorities, but Johnny was touched. "That's tuff enough, huh. Thanks, Dally."
"Now we just go down to the station and pick up your ticket. No sweat, Joey..." Dally said trying out the new name on him.
He thought about it and then made a face. "Nope. You're a Johnny. But that was too obvious."
"The Winston part is probably pushing it," Johnny laughed.
"Nah, it's pretty common here. I checked the phone book."
"Well, when I come back, maybe you could change my first name back."
Dally was quiet for a minute. He looked off into the distance as he often did when he was thinking about something. "Sure, kid. Anything you want."
That evening, Johnny had decided he would tell the rest of the gang the news. Dally went off to the Dingo. He didn't want to be around for that.
**Buck's Tavern 4:50 a.m.
Dally tried to remember how this had all started. He vaguely remembered Johnny receiving letters from a cousin, but he'd never really discussed what was in them. He tried to remember meeting Matt. He thought he had, a long time ago. Matt had lived in Tulsa for a while, but he'd moved very soon after Dally had arrived. And he'd been so much older than everyone in the gang that he never had seemed to really be a part of their group.
It was already two weeks ago that Johnny told him he was leaving. It seemed like yesterday, things had happened so fast. Ponyboy had taken the news really hard. He had stuck beside Johnny like glue after that. He'd even ditched school a few times to hang out with him. Darry hadn't gotten too upset about it- he knew Ponyboy wanted to spend as much time with Johnny as he could before Johnny left. Pony had begged to come to the train station, but they had all decided it would be best there weren't a lot of people there so Johnny could sneak away quietly. Two greasers at the train station would be less noticeable than three.. or seven for that matter. They had all agreed that someone should go with Johnny, and when Dally said, "I'll go," he used a tone that no one dared argue with.
Dally felt bad, in a way. He knew how much Johnny meant to the gang. This was hard on everyone, but at the same time he was relieved. He was going to have a hard enough time saying goodbye to Johnny himself. He didn't need another over-emotional person making it harder. If Soda, Two-bit or Pony came along, Dally was sure there'd be bawling. At this point, he was beginning to wonder if he would be able to keep it together. And besides, he had to do this. It had to be him. He didn't know why.
There was a small knock at the door. Dally breathed and tried to focus on anything but the sudden churning in his stomach.
Johnny poked his head in the door. He looked tired. He set a small bag down on the floor.
"Did you sleep ok, kid?" Dally asked.
Johnny shook his head no. On top of looking tired, he looked sad and scared.
That look is why he has to go, Dally reminded himself as he felt a twinge of sorrow. He won't have that look anymore where he's going. He put his hand on Johnny's shoulder. "Hey, buddy, it's gonna be all right."
Dally picked up his coat and handed Johnny a cigarette.
"You all set?"
Johnny took a deep breath. "I guess."
Dally picked up his bag and gently pushed Johnny towards the door.
So you're leaving
In the morning
On the early train,
Well I could say everything's all right
And I could pretend and say goodbye.
They walked together down the silent hallway of Buck's Tavern. Dally had never seen the place like this. It was almost spooky. He was so used to the noise. They went out to the front steps to finish their cigarettes and wait for the taxi. The sun hadn't come up yet and the air was very cold. A few stars still lingered in the early morning sky.
"So Matt's gonna meet you in Harrisonburg?"
Dally could tell he was scared. He didn't talk much in general, but when he was scared, he really shut up. "You think you'll like working with critters?"
Johnny actually brightened a bit at the mention of the job.
"Yeah, I think it'll be ok," he said quietly. Then he looked up and Dally could see excitement in his eyes. "Matt says he takes care of strays too. He says I can have my own dog- any one I want."
Dally looked at him. Johnny had always liked dogs. "Any ONE?"
Johnny grinned sheepishly "Well, maybe two."
Dally was satisfied that he'd gotten a smile out of him.
Got your ticket,
Got your suitcase,
Got your leaving smile.
I could say that's the way it goes,
And I could pretend and you won't know
That I was lying,
Johnny was looking a little more comfortable. Which, Dally was surprised to discover, actually made him feel worse. He wanted Johnny to be happy, but when he finally was, Dally felt something he could only describe as hurt. He didn't know why. He had been so confused the past few weeks. Then he looked at Johnny. That was his friend, his kid brother. Dally had been serious about that when he picked out Johnny's new name. Johnny suddenly looked a little older, a little more sure of himself. Dally knew he couldn't protect him if he stayed. Things had been getting worse for a long time, no had wanted to admit that. That was why Johnny had to leave. Dally felt that he had failed in some ways. The only thing left for him to do now was to let Johnny go. Push him away to somewhere that he could be happy, some place where he wouldn't need to be looked out for. Dally knew the only way to do that was to make sure Johnny got on that train. As hard as it was and much as it seemed to be ripping out his own heart, it was the last thing left that he could do to protect Johnny. He realized he would miss Johnny terribly, and he suddenly understood why he felt the way he did.
'Cause I can't stop loving you
No I can't stop loving you
No I won't stop loving you.
Why should I?
In the distance a set of headlights started to get brighter.
"That's probably our ride, " Dally said.
Johnny crushed out his cigarette and picked up his bag.
A taxi pulled up to Buck's and stopped. Johnny and Dally walked down the steps and got in. They didn't speak on the way to the train station, but it was not an uncomfortable silence. Dally had grown accustomed to Johnny's quiet ways and sometimes he found more was said through Johnny's silence than other people's words.
The train station wasn't crowded. Some business people wandered around with coffee and brief cases, making their morning commute to work.
Johnny and Dally walked over to the gate where Johnny's train would arrive.
Dally was shaking again and his insides were cold. His stomach wasn't bothering him as much anymore, but there was an aching in his chest, the likes of which he had never felt before in his life. He fought for control as he reached into the pocket of his coat. Fortunately, Johnny appeared to be preoccupied with his surroundings. He was scared enough right now for Dally's emotional state to go unnoticed.
We took a taxi to the station
Not a word was said.
I saw you walk across the floor
For maybe the last time, I don't know.
Dally pulled out the picture and took one last look. "Johnny?"
Johnny looked over at him.
"I uh... found this and ... I thought maybe you'd like to take it with you," he breathed carefully- control, Dallas, he told himself- and handed the picture to Johnny.
Johnny's eyes glowed. "Hey! I remember this picture! Mrs. Curtis gave it to you for staying out of trouble, " he laughed.
Dally nodded. part of him thought it was funny, but there was no laughter left in him now. "Yep. Now I'm giving it to you, so you have to stay out of trouble."
"Oh, yeah! Like you did?" Johnny was still smiling, but then he caught sight of Dally's expression. He almost stepped back, it surprised him so much.
Johnny had never seen pain in Dally's face before, let alone so much. He was trying so hard to hide it, Johnny wondered how much of it he couldn't even see.
"D-Dal?" Johnny practically whispered. "Are you ...ok?"
Dally took Johnny by the shoulders and looked right in his eyes. "Listen to me, kid. If this doesn't work out for you, if you change your mind, you call me. Call Darry. You let us know. And I swear we'll get you back here as fast as we can. No questions asked, whatever it takes. I want you to remember that... OK?"
Johnny nodded. He was too stunned to speak. He'd never seen Dally so concerned, so emotional. Were those tears in his eyes?
Dally let go of him and rubbed his forehead. "I didn't ...get a lot of sleep... last night."
Johnny nodded, still staring at him. He suddenly felt bad. What was he doing? How could he just walk out on Dally? On all his friends? They all cared about him and he was just going to leave.
Dally caught the pained look in Johnny's eyes and knew exactly what he was thinking. "No you don't, kid," he said softly. "You know this is the right thing to do for yourself. C'mon... "
Dally started herding him towards the gate that was now boarding.
"Dally," Johnny's voice shook.
Then Dally pulled him forward and hugged him. "You have to go, Johnnycake. Go where nobody's going to hurt you anymore."
Then he pulled away and looked him in the eye again and said "But don't you lose touch with us."
Johnny returned his gaze with tear filled eyes. "I'll come back Dal, I swear I will."
Dally messed up his hair. "Go on, kid."
And with that, Dally turned abruptly and walked off.
Heard the rumble
On the railway track.
And when I hear the whistle blow,
I walk away so you won't know
That I'll be crying...
Johnny took a deep breath, choked back a sob, and turned and boarded the train.
Dally had turned quickly because a tear had finally escaped and more were threatening to follow. He walked away from the small crowd starting to line up at the gate. He thought he would at least make it out of the building, but didn't get all that far before the ground blurred to the point were he could barely make out where he was going. His knees began to buckle. He collapsed on a near by bench, put his head in his hands and gave in to the tears.
Because I can't stop loving you
No I can't stop loving you
No I won't stop loving you
Why should I
Dally knew Johnny would be on the train by now, and he was sure at this point that he had walked far enough not to be seen.
He was wrong.
I'll always be here by your side
From a window on a slowly moving train, a small dark haired boy watched him with big, sad eyes. Had Dally looked up, he might have seen him mouth the words "I'm sorry."
I never wanted to say goodbye
But Dally just sat there alone on the bench, crying tears of sorrow and relief, missing Johnny, and hoping with all the strength he had left, that someday he'd see him again .
I'll always be here if you change, change your mind...
So you're leaving
In the morning
On the early train
Well I could say everything's all right,
And I could pretend to say goodbye
But I would be lying
Because I can't stop loving you
No I can't stop loving you
No I won't stop loving you
Why should I
Why should I
Why should I
Tell me why
Why should I