"Thanks," he called, running off, back to the girl. He stopped short a few feet beyond Johnny and watched as dirt bikes roared onto the beach, kicking up sand. Johnny put his sneakers on and stood up, brushing the sand from his jeans. He looked at the dirt bikes, too.
The kids on them had the same bearing the socs back home had. Johnny knew it all too well. 'We own this and can do whatever we want,' the cocky sliding stops and revs and shiny helmets and fancy leather outfits said.
The kid in the red sweatshirt held the ball against his hip and stared at the new development. Faintly Johnny could hear one of the California socs talking to the California girl. It was faint because of the music and the wind and the reving bikes and the ocean. They were in fact yelling, screaming at each other.
"I don't want to talk! We've been over all of this before!" the girl said. The kid in the red sweatshirt took a few tentative steps towards them.
"Give me back my radio!" she said. Johnny backed up. He wanted to grab the kid's red sweatshirt sleeve and tell him to leave it alone. Trouble. But he was heading towards them.
"You promise we'll talk?" the soc said.
He gave her the radio back and she flipped it on, turned it up louder than before. The soc grabbed it and threw it to the ground.
Johnny had seen enough. He took off.
* * *
After Johnny left the apartment Dally pieced together the situation from Bill's nearly incoherent rambling.
Apparently he owed some money to people of ill repute and all attempts to raise it had come to naught.
"And now," Bill said, sucking on his cigarette and trying to look out the windows and door all at once, "they may be coming for me,"
"What do you want me to do?" Dally said.
"Talk to 'em, or, or, I don't know..."
Dally raised an eyebrow skeptically. Talk to them? What good would talking to a punk from Oklahoma do?
"Bill, who are these people? Like loan sharks or the mafia or something?"
Bill shrugged, eyes filled with anxiety, and let Dally come to his own conclusion.
"I'm going to get some beer," Dally said, suddenly annoyed with Bill and his scared face and his shaky hands. He stalked off, feeling his pockets for money and his I.D. card, which gave his age as 21 instead of 17.
He came back shortly with the beer, feeling a bit displaced by the palm trees and balmy air.
"Here," he said, glaring at Bill and holding out a beer. Bill was on his millionth cigarette and set it in the ashtray to flip the cap from the beer. They both set to drinking, and waiting for Johnny to come back.
* * *
Johnny was wishing for a cigarette. He'd smoked his last and had no money.
He was sure the kid at the beach was going to get beat up. You don't mess with socs when they're angry over girls.
It wasn't late and he didn't feel like going back to Bill's yet. He wasn't hungry anymore. It had been so long since he ate that his stomach felt shrivelled up and quiet. But boy did he want a cigarette. He could feel the desire for one knawing at the edges of his brain.
Beyond the beach was a boardwalk and along that were tee shirt stores, convenience stores, restaurants, street side cafes, and bars.
It was a lot of lights, more neon than Oklahoma, and a lot of people. Johnny walked along, trying not to get jostled. He ducked into a bar.
The bar smelled strongly of whiskey and gin. Reminded him of Buck's place and those honky tonk parties. This bar was filled with college kids, laughing, drinking, with a backbeat of moody poprock.
"Can I get a cigarette?" he said as softly as he could but loud enough to be heard over the music. He'd asked a girl with short blond hair and dark eye shadow. She tossed him one. He thanked her and left.
Outside again Johnny noticed the warm air and the palm trees, too. And like Dallas he felt out of place, displaced, like he didn't belong here. Then again back in Oklahoma with his mom always screaming at him and his dad always hitting him and the damn socs jumping him every chance they got, he didn't feel like he belonged there, either.
Johnny figured he'd sneak into a movie. It was easy. He did it all the time at home. He figured he's seen more movies than Ponyboy because Pony always went to school. Johnny hardly ever did, he'd sneak into a movie.
* * *
The kid in the red sweatshirt was Daniel Larusso. Everyone always called him Daniel, never Danny or Dan. It was because of his mother always calling him Daniel. And it was because of her they were in this shit hole, Raceda.
Johnny had been right. He did get beat up trying to defend that girl. She was so beautiful, with soft blond hair and clear blue eyes and that smile. And she had liked him, Daniel was sure of it. Now what did she think?
His cheeks flushed hot with embarrassment, barely able to breath, his stomach hurt so bad. He lay on the beach spitting out sand. He could barely see out of one eye and he winced when he tried to touch it.
He heard the girl coming over to him after Freddy and his friends left, laughing and shaking their heads. Freddy had thought he, Daniel, knew karate. What did he know?
"Are you alright?" the girl, her soft sweet voice filled with pity. Damn it, why'd this have to happen? He spit out sand and tried to get enough of his breath back to talk.
"Just leave me alone," he gasped. His breath wasn't back yet.
"I...I can help you..."
"No. I'm o.k. Just leave me alone," he said, every word a struggle around the burning pain in his stomach and lungs.
"C'mon, it's best to leave him alone," another girl said, gently tugging on the blond's sleeve. She left, and the dirt bikes roared back, kicking sand onto his face. Daniel lowered his head onto his arm. He hated it here.
He layed there for a long while, it seemed to him. Everyone left and he was alone. But finally he could breath, and he picked himself up and headed back to his apartment with the broken swimming pool. It was a shit hole, the old lady he'd met yesterday was right. But him and his mom had lived in a shit hole in New Jersey, too. It was all they could afford.
* * *
Daniel pushed the wood gate door open and heard it squeak. He walked softly past the pool, toward the stairs that led up to his apartment. He didn't want to run into Freddy even though Freddy left the beach hours ago.
He felt a sinking feeling when he heard an apartment door open. But it was apartment 10. Freddy lived in apartment 17.
He saw two of the blondest guys he's ever seen. They were both tall with white blond hair and blue blue eyes. One looked nervous in a general way. The other one looked mean and angry. Both were starring at him. Great. What now?
"What the hell happened to you?" the mean one said, grabbing his arm and pulling him.
"Jesus Christ," the nervous one said, starring at his blackening eye.
"I got in a fight," Daniel said, pulling away from the mean one.
"Where the hell did you get those clothes?" the mean one said, looking at the navy blue sweatpants and red sweatshirt. Daniel didn't understand that. What was wrong with his clothes? So he shrugged and headed for the stairs.
"Jesus Christ, Johnny, where are you going?" the mean one said this and looked angry enough to punch him. Oh, Daniel thought, they thought he was someone else.
"I'm not Johnny," Daniel said, and walked quickly away, in case they didn't believe him.
Johnny showed up about a half hour later and ate two bologna sandwiches before going to bed.
"There's a kid who lives here that looks just like you," Dallas said, blowing out smoke and peering at Johnny through it.
"Oh, he lives here? I met him at the beach,"
Johnny had a couple more bites of his sandwich and Dally finished his fourth beer. Bill opened up another pack of Kools.
"So," Johnny said, lighting a cigarette of his own, "did that kid get beat up or what?"