"You wreck this car and I'm not protecting you from Buck," Dally said, already scanning the apartments for number 10. The doors all opened to the outside like a cheap motel. The building was painted a faded blue and all the doors were green. You didn't see such colors in Tulsa.
There was a huge gated swimming pool filled with three feet of algae green water, plastic toys with algae clinging to them like fur floated in slow arcs in the shallow water.
He found apartment 10 and kind of shoved Johnny in that direction. Johnny stumbled but he saw it ,too, and walked toward it.
The apartment was small. You entered in the living room and off that was a tiny kitchen nook lined with fake pine cabinets. Bill sat at the little table, a cigarette dangling from his fingers.
He was stunningly blond, like Dallas, a shade of blond that was always startling on an adult.
Bill had been to Tulsa to see Dallas once or twice and knew the gang out there. He recognized Johnny, scared rabbit look, jumpy kid.
"Dallas. Thank God," Bill said, taking a deep drag on the cigarette. Dally noticed his hands were shaking.
"What's the trouble, Bill?" Bill glanced around, almost trying to peer out his front door. Dallas craned his neck to look out the door, too. Nothing out there but potted plants and sand.
Bill's gaze came to rest on Johnny, who was chewing on his fingernail and lightly kicking the wooden leg of the couch. Bill glanced back at Dallas. Dallas got the hint.
"Johnny," Dallas said sharply. Johnny snapped his head up and quit chewing on his nail.
"There's a beach not too far from here," Dallas said, his tone softening a bit, "why don't you hang out there for awhile?"
Johnny nodded and left without a word. Dallas sat at the table with Bill, pulled out a cigarette and lit it, and leaned over the table, when he spoke his voice was low, almost menacing,
"Now how about telling me what the trouble is?"
* * *
Johnny squinted against the sun. It was never this bright in Tulsa. His jacket was lying in the backseat of Buck's car but he was still hot in his black tee shirt and jeans. It was the tail end of summer but in Southern California that meant hot. The sky was a surreal blue. Johnny starred up at it and got dizzy. He looked down and saw white spots floating and bursting in his line of vision.
He wished Dallas had remembered to stop for breakfast.
The beach was full. Full. Little kids running around in soggy diapers and shiny bathing suits. Overweight but tanned adults in sunglasses and big hats sitting under sun umbrellas. Teenage girls, their skin glistening from the water and the sand, running to and from the edge of the waves. There were teenage boys, tan, lean muscles pumping as they ran after a soccer ball.
Johnny almost went back but he'd seen the look on Dally's face. Go to the beach, he'd said, and meant it. And if he came hunting for him and he wasn't there...
So he stepped on the beach, not used to the way all the sand shifted when he took a step, not used to the way the sun reflected off the water and sand all at once into his eyes. He was getting a headache.
He took off his tee shirt and his sneakers and socks. He was still hot. He contemplated cutting his jeans into shorts with his switch blade but decided against it.
The sun was dipping lower over the blue horizon line, red sun almost sinking into the Pacific. Johnny gazed out at the ocean, not used to the effect the ocean had. He felt calm, for once. Like he wouldn't jump out of his skin if someone spoke or moved suddenly. He liked all these miles between him and his parents, and those damn socs. Always hasseling him for nothing, no reason.
"Hey," a soft girl's voice broke his thoughts. He looked up at her but said nothing. She was a California girl, alright. Blond hair bleached blonder by a relentless sun, dusting of freckles almost lost in her tan, blue eyes clear and wide and open.
"Are you related to him?" she said, pointing towards the boys still chasing that soccer ball in the last of the light.
They were a ways off and there were about seven of them. Johnny squinted in their direction. They were dark and indistinct.
"Him. That boy with the Spanish kids from Receda,"
"No. Why would you think that?" She sunk down next to him and studied his face. He looked away.
"Well, I," she looked puzzled, still trying to look at him but he wasn't facing her, "you look just like him,"
Johnny shook his head. She shrugged, got up, ran back to her friends who were starting a little fire.
The boys with the soccer ball finally gave it up. There was no light left. Near the girls they made a little fire, too.
The two groups started roasting hot dogs and Johnny's stomach growled. He hadn't eaten all day. Should have asked Dal for some money.
The sand was getting cool and Johnny shrugged back into his shirt. He heard music from a radio the California blond girl had brought.
He thought he'd go back. He couldn't see the water anymore but he could hear it, soothing.
Out of the corner of his eye he caught movement. One of the boys had kicked the soccer ball over to the girls. Johnny watched a kid in a red sweatshirt go to retrieve it, flirt with the California blond. He shook his head. These people seemed to live such privileged lives without even knowing it. They lived near this ocean and that radio! Johnny wanted it, as he wanted most material things his parents would never afford. Mustangs. Corvairs. Madres shirts. Boom box radios. Even a T.V. His parents didn't even own a T.V.
Johnny was pulling his socks on when the soccer ball rolled near him. Close enough to touch.
"Hey, man, can I have that?" Johnny looked up at the sound of the voice. It was the kid in the red sweatshirt who had been flirting with the blond. His black hair was shorter than Johnny's and not greased and so kind of fluffed up a bit.
This was the kid the girl had been talking about. Johnny saw the resemblance. 'He looks like me if I was happy,' Johnny thought. He tossed him the ball.