"Got a letter from my cousin in California," he said in his bored manner, not looking at anyone. But he knew where everyone was and what they were doing. He was alert, hyper alert, like he had been living on the streets of New York. Once it gets in you it's hard to change.
Steve Randle was digging through the fridge like it was his own. Ponyboy was reading at the kitchen table, maybe something for school, maybe not. Kid always had his nose in a book. Two bit was swigging a beer and watching T.V. Darry and Soda were rushing around, finding clothes and swigging coffee, getting ready for work. Johnny was sitting in the living room, not watching T.V., just sort of starring off. The kid was a little spooky. So quiet. No one could get him to talk.
"He wants me to go up there, help him out with something," Dally struck a match on the heel of his boot and lit a cigarette. Johnny looked longingly at it and Dally handed it to him, lit another one.
"Anyone want to go with me?" Now he looked at them, disconcerting blue eyes lighting on each face for just a second.
He knew, before he even asked the question, what the answer would be. And he was right.
"California?" Darry said, his eyes squinting with worry, stress, strain. Not over Dally's invitation but over his life, working two jobs, trying to keep Soda and Pony out of trouble.
"Yeah. San Fernando Valley. Some shit hole apartment in Receda,"
They all declined, one by one, and for the reasons Dally knew already. Darry and Soda had to work. Steve didn't like to leave Soda or his little girlfriend Evie. Two bit had to babysit his little sister, not that he really did this but he couldn't just up and go to California. Ponyboy had school. That left Johnny. Johnny didn't give a shit about school, and his parents didn't give a shit what he did.
"Johnny, you're coming with me," Johnny looked at him with those big black eyes and barely nodded.
"When are we going?" Johnny said, not looking at Dally, looking instead at his ragged fingernails. He bit every one to the bloody quick. Kid was a nervous wreck.
It was set, then.
* * *
Dally managed to get a hold of Buck Merril's T Bird, some faded road maps, and money.
He wanted to start early. It was a ways from Oklahoma to California, but he aimed to make good time.
He realized, pulling away from Buck's in the red gold light of dawn, that he didn't know if Johnny had stayed at the Curtis', the lot, Two bit's, or his own house. Damn it. He tried the Curtis'.
Darry was up, drinking coffee and reading the paper, reading glasses at the end of his nose like he was 40 instead of 20. Darry acted so fucking old. It grated on Dallas' nerves sometimes.
Darry looked up, didn't smile, shook his head no. Dally left, cruised by the lot looking for Johnny curled up under newspapers, huddled in that old jean jacket. No one was there. Everyone was asleep at Two bit's, and Johnny wasn't there.
Dally felt the sinking in his stomach. They all hated to go to Johnny's house and avoided it as much as possible. Johnny's parents were rough on him. They'd all heard him getting screamed at. When his mother got going, well, you could hear her clear across town. And they'd all seen him getting hit by his old man. Ponyboy had even seen Johnny whipped with a two by four.
Dally thought for a second of leaving him behind. He could. He could do what he wanted. But it was a coward's way. He drove to Johnny's house.
Johnny sat on the front steps waiting. His black hair was greased and shining in the sun. Dally ran a hand through his own shock white hair.
Johnny saw him and ran over, breathing a little easier the further away he got from his house.
"Looked all over for you, kid," Dally said, ruffling Johnny's hair despite the grease. Johnny pulled away and squinted his eyes. He didn't like to be touched.
"Got a cigarette, Dal?"
Dally handed him one.
Johnny slept most of the way. Dally didn't care. Didn't bat an eye at the mountains, the deserts, and the long stretch of corn and wheat fields that seemed to stretch on damn near forever.
He let Johnny drive some. Buck would be mad as hell, especially with Johnny grinding the gears. He didn't even have a license.
They stopped at a diner at two in the morning for coffee and to rest a bit. Dally drank the coffee black. He was planning on driving through the night. Johnny had his coffee half filled with cream and five sugers.
It was dark, the weird black sky of an area they weren't used to. For all his worldliness Dally had only been to Tulsa and New York. Johnny had never even left his damn neighborhood. Looked around at everything wide eyed.
In the car Johnny leaned his head against the glass and was almost immediately asleep again, despite the coffee. Dally drove and the look on his face was stoic, pale eyes squinting from the glare of the occassional on coming car.
* * *
By the time they arrived at the apartment complex where Dally's cousin Bill lived they were both road dusty and cranky. Dally had been snapping at Johnny for the last 50 miles and Johnny accused him of getting them lost.
"God damn it, Johnny! You have the fucking map! Find the god damn road already!"
"How the hell am I supposed to know where he lives? He's your fucking cousin!" But Johnny tried, folding and unfolding the map, turning it this way and that to find the combination of streets that would bring them to the complex.
When they finally parked behind the building Johnny slammed the car door hard and Dally glared at him.