I could've sworn that it felt like somebody just popped into my chest, gripped a rough hold on my heart, and just yanked it out without any cares. By every passing second with me just staring over the wooden crib, I kept hoping to death that I was having a terrifying nightmare. However, no matter how many times I clenched my eyes shut and blinked them back open, I couldn't wake up. This wasn't a dream...this was a horrifying reality. The gang and I drove all this way to escape all of the terrors of Tulsa, but instead, it all seemed to come chasing after us. Escaped mental patients who were turning themselves into murderous kidnappers were after the gang, myself, and possibly the rest of the guests staying at The County Lodge!
My baby sister was missing; she must've got kidnapped by one of the escaped mental patients. I wiped my eyes clear from my hot, salty tears about a million times when hoping that there was possibly another explanation to why Jocelyn was suddenly gone. However, there wasn't. Nobody else from the gang could've came to get her without me knowing, and it's not like they could get into our room since Dally had the key. Jocelyn was taken.
I began to tremble, growing paler by the minute. Ever since Jocelyn took in her first breath of life, I've vowed to always love and take care of her, just like I promised to do when Cassidy was born. Unfortunately, I had no idea who these escaped mental patients were, nor did I understand what they would do in order to kidnap and kill who they were truly after. The news reporter said that the fuzz is thinking that these escaped psychopaths only kidnap children, babies, and toddlers for bait...they really wanted to kill teenagers and adults. But why? Why did these twisted mental patients targeting the gang and I, and apparently one of them keep showing themselves only around...
Instantly, my red-rimmed eyes seemed to bulge out of my head as I began to go back and forth from thinking about Jocelyn, to Cassidy. Cassidy was twelve, a preteen...but I had no idea at what age range these mental patients would've considered her. Would they decide to kidnap her as a child...or spill her innocent blood to pass her for a teenager? Her birthday isn't until April, so she obviously would still be a preteen all throughout this winter break. I don't have the slightest idea how these escaped mental patients see things though.
So all those times Cassidy could've sworn she saw the same dark figure from the road...she wasn't just dreaming or seeing things. Darry was wrong about this being just homesickness, and that shadowy figure wasn't just in our heads. The gang and I might've been hungry, still somewhat drowsy from recently waking up, and it was too dark to see things clearly, but now I knew for sure that dark figure was real...and it, along with possibly many others, meant business. I had the heartbreaking proof; my baby sister was missing.
I had to get her back, and nothing stands in my way when it comes to me protecting my kid sisters. No matter how hard and terrifying this was going to be, I understood that I had to try my hardest to break away from my jumpiness and do anything to track Jocelyn down. Even though my fear and shyness has been stuck to me since the first beat of my heart, I had no choice. I wanted my baby sister back, safe and sound, and in order to do that, the gang and I would have to find her before those escaped mental patients attempted to strike again.
Without allowing another moment to slip through my fingers, I tried to break out of my tearful gaze at the now empty crib. Another terrified jolt sparked up my spine, causing me to howl loudly in misery as more tears pooled down my face. No matter how much I tried turning myself around and running off to get help, I felt like my feet were nailed to the floor. This is all my fault! This is all my freaking damn fault! If I actually listened to Cassidy, Jocelyn wouldn't have gotten kidnapped, and I would've found a way to convince the gang to pack up and leave The County Lodge for good. However, it was too late now.
"Johnnycake?" I heard the sound of Kitten's voice, somewhat exclaiming from the hallway. She sounded startled, nervous, and caring all in one. I tried to get some words to come out from my lips, but all I could do was continue to shed tears like a waterfall. Each letter of any word I wanted to attempt saying was scattered all around in my throat, heavily jammed and too hard to cough out.
I then picked up the sound of what I thought was another door opening up.
"Johnny? Is that you?" Two-Bit's voice echoed from across the hall from mine, Jocelyn, Cassidy, and Dally's room. "Are you alright? What's goin' on?"
I continued to wickedly shake, too scared and caught in a messy net of painful misery. It was as if everlasting tape was stuck over my mouth, and all I could do was hope that my salty tears would leak to the point where the stickiness would cave, and the tape would come off.
I quietly breathed heavily and rapidly, trying to find my words and get them out clearly. Nonetheless, before I could bother to get even a small squeak out, I heard the sound of rushing footsteps trotting down, getting closer to my open door.
"Kit-Cat, what's goin' on?" Two-Bit confusedly asked, but she didn't answer. Before I knew it, I heard another pair of footsteps approaching my door. I closed my red-rimmed eyes and prepared myself for what was about to happen.
"Oh my god!" Kitten gasped, and I knew that she finally noticed me in complete tears, making my gigantic bawl baby side expose. Slowly, I forced myself to crack my eyes back open, noticing how my vision kept going from clear to blurry from my steaming tears. Sniffling and still trembling, I felt the warmth of my salty tears stroke down my cheeks. Unfortunately, that only made me feel worse.
Two-!Bit's eyes shot wide after they locked on me. "Johnnycake! What happened?"
I couldn't stop trembling; all I could do was continue to cry as I thought about who had Jocelyn, and what could've possibly been happening to her right then.
Kitten quickly scampered over to me and collapsed down onto her knees. She then connected her arms around me, allowing my head to rest on her shoulder. With her head leaning gently against mine, she caringly stroke my hair like I would do to Cassidy.
"Johnny, what's wrong?" Kitten softly and more caringly questioned.
I opened my mouth, but all I could do was wait until I took in a sharp breath. It was as if whoever took Jocelyn took my voice with them.
Two-Bit calmly started his way into the room, being slow for a change.
Kitten quietly hushed me. "It's okay, Johnnycake...shush, it's all right...let it out, let it out."
"N-No! I-It's not o-okay!" I finally found my voice, somewhat exclaiming it through my salty tears.
Kitten began to look half confused, but yet half understanding. "What are you talkin' about, Johnny? We've talked about this before. Real men cry, even Dally like he did when-"
"I-I'm not t-talking about m-my crying!" I was too fed up on my fear and sorrow that I didn't pay any attention to how I was raising my voice. A sigh instantly seeped out of my mouth when I realized how Kitten was trying to hide a somewhat hurt expression. "I-I'm sorry, Kitty Cat..." I sniffled, wiping away some of my tears, "I'm j-just t-too scared t-to think."
"What are you-" Two-Bit began to ask something, but he shut himself up when he peered into the wooden crib. His eyes grew again, but this time with confusion, and he cocked an eyebrow. "Hey, Johnnycake...where's little Joce at?"
When Two-Bit not only bothered to question about Jocelyn, but he used her nickname that I gave her when she was born, another loud moan of painful sorrow escaped from my mouth. More steaming tears drenched down my now red face, and I felt Kitten's arms caringly squeeze me tighter.
"Johnnycake..." Kitten's voice was now quiet, full of shock, "are you sayin' that...Jocelyn is-"
"Missing?" Two-Bit finished her question, his tone exposing just as much shock.
Again, I couldn't help myself to let out a howl of misery, and I hesitantly nodded my head.
"Oh my god..." Two-Bit gulped down a giant breath of air. He was probably checking to see if he was stuck in some horrifying nightmare himself, but he couldn't wake up from reality.
"Somebody took Jocelyn? As in, a kidnapper?" asked Kitten, her eyebrows raised with concern.
"Yes! There are escaped mental patients on the lose!" I came out and said what I knew needed to be known.
I heard Kitten squeak a little as she grasped a sharp breath. When I then gazed at Two-Bit, I noticed that he looked sick to his stomach, which was very rare. His wide and goofy smile was never there then, pulled down, and his eyes that were usually shining off happiness and laughter were now huge, swarming with much more shock.
"What?" Kitten looked just as startled as Two-Bit. Again, that was completely rare. "Are you sure, Johnnycake? How do you know?"
"I d-do know f-for sure," I sniffled and nodded, "I just s-saw it on t-the news channel...these e-escaped mental p-patients are kidnapping b-babies, t-toddlers, and c-children so they can l-lure in w-who they're r-really after...t-teenagers a-and adults. N-Not o-only that, b-but these m-mental p-patients want to kill who t-they're really after."
"Are you saying that an escaped mental patient kidnapped Jocelyn for bait?" Two-Bit asked, looking sicker.
I regretfully nodded. "Y-Yeah...and these m-mental patients a-are said to t-take their v-victims around h-here...The C-County Lodge!"
Kitten brushed my bangs away from dangling right in front of my eyes. Trying to remain calm, she asked, "Are you sure, Johnny?"
"Yes, I'm positive!" I replied. "How else could Jocelyn possibly be missing? Man, we got to find her! We just got to! She's one of my baby sisters!"
"Johnnycake, don't worry," I could tell by the sound of Two-Bit's voice that he was trying his hardest to remain calm, too. "We're goin' to find little Joce no matter how long or what it exactly takes. But why didn't Mr. Roberts speak a word to us about these escaped mental patients?"
I shrugged. "Maybe he didn't know?"
"I don't think that's possible, Johnnycake," Kitten scratched her chin, "I mean, Mr. Roberts owns this hotel and he lives here in Kansas. I'm pretty sure that he would inform any of his guests about some escaped mental patients runnin' freely around here."
Two-Bit confusedly raised an eyebrow. "So why didn't he bother to tell us when we checked in? Or how about when Superman was making our reservations over the phone back in Tulsa?"
I rolled my tearful eyes around, wiping away as many of my tears as I could. Kitten and Two-Bit did have a good point...why wouldn't Mr. Roberts tell us something that was this important? Maybe he didn't believe that the news reports were correct? Or he thought that the escaped mental patients wouldn't bother coming to his hotel? Whatever the answer was though, he should've told the gang and I. I swear, if we somehow found out and knew about the escaped mental patients before we left Tulsa, we would've found something else to do over winter break. I couldn't care less if we were all trapped back at the Curtis'; better being there than being in some hotel that had escaped mental patients lurking around.
"Come on, Johnnycake," Kitten's soft voice shattered my thoughts, and she tugged at my arm. My legs were still a bit shaky from my strong sorrow, so I had to balance myself when Kitten first helped me up from the floor.
"Where are we going?" I sniffled as I cleaned away the remains of my salty tears from my bright red face and red-rimmed eyes.
Kitten placed her hands on her hips. "Downstairs, back to the feasting hall. We need to get everybody gathered so we can tell them everything, and then we can start looking for Jocelyn. Don't worry, Johnnycake...we're goin' to find her and get her back, safe and sound."
I nodded, trying my best to find my own confidence like Kitten always had stored up inside of her. What I found was better than nothing. We were going to find my baby sister...we just had to...she's so small and innocent, and she has her whole life ahead of her.
Two-Bit gave my shoulder a clap. "Let's go, Johnnycake. We'll find little Joce after we tell everyone else what's really going on here."
Again, I nodded. How else could all of these strange encounters make any sense? The pale hand I saw when first arriving through the window, the knocking and doorknobs jiggling, that dark figure that Cassidy kept seeing since the first night...it was all connected. The escaped mental patients had to be here...and now it was our job to remain as safe as possible, and not to mention that the gang and I have to find Jocelyn. I don't care if it takes the entire winter break or even over it! I am not leaving Kansas without my own baby sister!
Whoever these escaped mental patients were, they meant business. That's all that I could really think about when Two-Bit and Kitten had to actually help me leave mine, Jocelyn, Dally, and Cassidy's room. I was still pretty rattled up that I seemed to couldn't leave the room where Jocelyn was taken. Nevertheless, Kitten and Two-Bit changed that, gently grasping my arms and standing by my sides as they led me after them.
I was not going to allow these mental patients to get away with this. I was scared to a whole new level, but when somebody messes with someone else who I very much care about, I mean just as much business as they apparently do.
I took in a deep drag of my recently lit cigarette, not caring to look around for any "No Smoking" signs. I did catch Mr. Roberts staring at me with big eyes, but he looked more surprised than anybody would guess some hotel owner would react towards one of their guest's smoking. I was a greaser...cigarettes were practically built in to us, except if you were Darry Curtis, Kitten Andrews, or Cassidy and Jocelyn Cade. Johnny was actually trying to quit though.
I sat between Soda and Dally, continuing to take in deep breaths of my cigarette as I kept looking at Johnny. He was sitting across from me, Cassidy sitting on one side of him, and Kitten was sitting on his other side. I didn't have the slightest clue as to why Johnnycake, Two-Bit, and Kitten got everyone in the entire hotel together at a table in the feasting hall, but it honestly made me feel a little sick to my stomach. By the looks of Johnny's fading red face and slimly red-rimmed eyes, I could tell that he had been previously crying. He must've been bursting like a waterfall by what I could tell, but why? I don't think I've ever seen Johnny bawl so much; even when his old man whipped him with a belt, or when his mom cursed and kicked him and his kid sisters out, Johnny never cried like that. Hm...plenty of strange things have been going on ever since the gang and I made it to The County Lodge.
I don't know what could possibly drive somebody into bawling so much. There were many times when my mom would stand back and shed her own tears over my old man. Cheap mascara would be drenching down her frail cheeks, and her dark blue eyes were red-rimmed, salted in plenty of steaming tears. My mother's eyes used to swarm day by day with everlasting life and happiness, but after my old man turned into a complete ass, her eyes drowned in pain and sorrow. There were times when my old man would even take some swats at her; I remember when I was probably about five, all the way until I turned ten, I would hear through my parents bedroom door...it sounded a lot like the bed was squeaking repeatedly, and my mom would be begging my dad to stop. Back then, I didn't have the slightest idea over what my father was doing to my mom, but now I understand completely...and I have such a damn difficult time believing that I'm related to him. My old man even got my mother pregnant again, and if it wasn't for my dad being such a freaking ass, I would have a little brother today. My dad ended up pushing my mom down the stairs during one of his drunk tantrums...she lost my baby brother instantly.
I would go to the lot and use newspapers as blankets whenever I didn't want to bug the Curtis' about my old man cursing at me and kicking me out again. During the hot sun, chilly rain, freezing snow, dangerous hail...no matter what the weather was, there were times where I would just lay at the lot to be by myself and catch up on a few cigarettes. Nonetheless, even through my twisted life so far, I never shed a single tear that I recall of. I never even cried when Dally was almost shot by the fuzz, or when Ponyboy told us that Johnny passed away when that was actually a true mistake. I just locked myself up and refused to talk to anybody, even Soda, for a while.
I took in another deep drag of my cigarette and held in the smoke for a few seconds.
For some reason, Johnny stood up from his seat and began to pace. Biting down on his thumbnail, I could tell that he was trying not to cry anymore.
I released my drag.
"You know," Mr. Roberts suddenly spoke up, shattering the quietness. "You'll get sick if you smoke so much. That stuff will turn your lungs into a chimney."
I knew that he was talking to me, but I didn't care to say anything back. Instead, I decided to put my cancer stick out, not wanting to be the center of attention.
"We're greasers," stated Dally with his usual cool tone. "I don't know 'bout you and any other Kansas folks, but most of us Tulsa greasers consider smokin' tuff."
"It's not," Mr. Roberts shook his head, "I hate to be the burden of bad news, but it can kill you."
At the words 'kill you,' I could've sworn that Johnny's eyes looked as if they were going to bulge right out of his head. He seemed to grow pale, as if he was about to throw up, and his breathing picked up his pace. He was now frozen in his footsteps, looking like he just came intact with a killer.
"We're on vacation," Darry reminded, "let's just get through our winter break without any disaster thoughts like that, please."
Kitten bit down on her bottom lip and nibbled at it for a moment. Then she sighed and shook her head a few soft times. "I'm afraid that we'll have to go through that no matter what, Darry."
Silence surrounded the table, and everybody began to confusedly gaze around the table at each other. Other than Ashton, who was kicking back "coolly" with his hands in his pockets and feet up on the table, everyone else looked as concerned as could be. This other very pale boy with dark brown hair and blonde highlights was refusing to look at anyone; his dark green eyes wouldn't leave his lap. I don't know if it's my past coming back to me or that news report that I saw not long ago at all, but there was this feeling in the middle of my stomach. It was like something was trying to tell me that there was something wrong with that really pale and thin boy. Nonetheless, I didn't bother to pay any attention to that right then; I was more concerned over what Kitten just said.
"What do you mean by that, Kitty Cat?" Darry sat up straight in his chair and raised his eyebrows.
"What I mean is..." Kitten's mouth stayed slimly open, looking like she was trying to say more, but she couldn't get another word out.
Johnny began to slowly pace again; his breathing was quit, but rapid and hearable in the almost vacant feasting hall.
"Johnnycake," A rare frown slipped across Kitten's face, and she stood up from her chair. "Don't worry, Johnnycake...I told you that we're goin' to find her no matter what." She wrapped her arms around Johnny from behind, getting him to stop in his tracks again. Johnny's tears began to slowly trace down his face, and his sniffling began to escape too.
"Find her?" Cassidy's eyes grew a little, her voice full of beginners shock. "What does Kitten mean by that, Johnny?"
Two-Bit instantly stood up from where he was sitting, between Vinny and Ponyboy. "Kitten, Johnnycake, and I just recently found out some horribly shocking news."
I slowly studied everybody's facial expressions again; everyone still looked pretty concerned.
"Which is what exactly, Mathews?" I shrugged, deciding to be the one to ask since nobody else looked like they were ready to speak yet.
A rare frown plastered across Two-Bit's face, too.
"Well," Two-Bit sighed, "Johnnycake was just so happening to be watching the news channel..."
At the words 'news channel,' the newcomer Jadelyn and the really pale boy seemed to grow more nervous themselves. The pale boy began to pick at his bottom lip, and Jade started to tighten her grip on her dog, Zeus' leash.
"And Johnny informed Two-Bit and I...when we found him bawling his heart out on the floor in his, Dally, Jocelyn, and Cassidy's room..." Kitten began to speak some more. The concern was instantly expanding on the inside and out with everyone, except Ashton.
"There are escaped mental patients on the lose," Two-Bit came right out and stated the problem, "and Johnnycake, Kitten, and I believe that they're here...because Jocelyn is missing."
My eyes went huge, and I could've sworn that I felt my heart drop in my chest without another pump.
"Jocelyn is what?" Dally's voice revealed how protective he was of the Cade's.
"Missing?" Came Darry's tone shortly after.
Looking regretful, Johnny hesitantly nodded his head as more salty tears made their ways down his face. "I bolted back to get her like the devil was comin' after me...but when I looked in the crib...she was gone..." Johnny nearly began to squeak from his voice softening so much.
I nervously bit down on my thumbnail and began to think heavily about that news report that I didn't bother to tell anybody about. Could Johnny, Kitten, and even Two-Bit be right about this? No...this just couldn't be happening...
"Johnnycake, are you sure she was really gone? Is it possible that she could've climbed out of the crib and hid somewhere in the room?" Ponyboy questioned.
"No, Pony," sniffled Johnny, "Jocelyn is only seven months, she can't even crawl yet. One or more of these escaped mental patients must've kidnapped her; there's no other explanation. None of you could've got into mine, Dally, Cassidy, and Jocelyn's room, and even if you could've, you would've told me that you were goin' to get her."
Vinny hid her face behind her cuffed hands, and I could've sworn that I heard her mumbling every word in the book to herself.
"That all makes sense," Soda's eyes were now gigantic, "with all of the strange experiences that we've been goin' through since we got here...it wouldn't surprise me if there actually were other people here. Dangerous people." He was surprisingly sounding a whole lot softer for someone who was afraid. I haven't ever heard his voice that quiet before since the night after his parents died in that auto-wreck incident.
"But why would some escaped mental patients want to come after us?" Vinny softly, but angrily asked, and a string of cuss words followed under her breath.
"Because they want to kidnap kids, babies, and toddlers in order to lure in who they really want to kill...teenagers and adults. The fuzz is even sayin' that that's most likely what's going on because none of the younger kidnapped victims have been murdered." Johnny informed as he wiped away as many of his tears as he could.
Darry's eyes seemed to bulge out of his head from shock. "Are you sure about all of that, Johnny?"
Eagerly, the oldest Cade nodded, but just as he opened his mouth to say something, the vampire looking Ashton beat him to it.
"Jonathan, is it?" Ashton spoke as a phony grin spread widely across his face. I knew by heart whenever somebody was pulling a face or telling a lie; I guess I picked it all up over the years from Dally and Vinny.
Johnny hesitated, staring at the pale as hell Ashton with salty rimmed eyes and quietly panting to himself.
Ashton didn't turn his head, but moved his eyes left to right a few times, as if he was taking in the new silence and studying everybody else that was in the room.
Silently, I rose my cigarette back up to my lips, but just as I was about to take in another soft drag, something else caught my attention. From the slim peeking at the corner of my eye, I could've sworn that Utopia looked as if she was about to throw her head down and burst into tears. I don't think that I've ever saw somebody who seemed that scared or nervous or even both in my entire life, and I was there in the hospital with my mother when she was informed that she had a miscarriage. Utopia looked just like I did that day when I was fearfully waiting in the waiting room to see my mom and hear about my baby brother. Though, Utopia looked sicker; I didn't know if this whole escaped mental patients thing was getting to my head or what, but I couldn't help this strange feeling that was suddenly eating away at the pit of my stomach. Something was wrong with Utopia, and I had this other feeling that it somehow involved Ashton.
"Well," Ashton's somewhat stern voice shattered the silence. His eyes didn't leave Johnny. "Is that your name or not?"
"It is," Johnny finally nodded, "but just call me Johnny for short."
Another phony smile wiped across Ashton's face. "Ah, Johnny," He seemed to be uncaringly chuckling his words. "I'm afraid that you're overreacting to all of this."
Utopia quickly sat up straight in her chair and gazed nervously at her so-called boyfriend. How in the hell did a guy like Ashton get such a gal like Utopia?
"Ashton-" Utopia attempted to speak up, her tone sounding like it was flooding with plead.
"Excuse me, but I'm not overreacting!" Johnny cut Utopia off, staring with a mixture of shock and remaining pain in his eyes.
"Course you are," Ashton's "smile" began to form into this smirk. "I mean, do you honestly believe that we're all staying in some hotel where some so-called escaped mental patients are kidnapping and killing their freakin' victims?"
Johnny threw his arms over his chest and tried to stop shedding his hot tears, but he was failing miserably. "I saw it on the news, didn't I?"
Dally narrowed his eyes at the vampire looking teenager. "Why don't you shut the hell up? Johnnycake would never freakin' lie about somethin' like this!"
Cassidy's eyes grew a little at the furious tone of Dally's voice, but what really surprised me was that she didn't seem to care in just a matter of a few passing seconds. Actually, Cassidy looked pretty damn ticked about something all of the sudden if you ask me. Was it possibly because Ashton was saying that Johnny, her older brother, was overreacting about their baby sister missing? No, that couldn't have been it; Cassidy would stormed up from her seat and said something by now. What could've possibly rattled her cage like that?
"The news channel is nothin' but shit." Ashton's smirk vanished from his face as he uncaringly rolled his eyes. "Other than those models in the magazines, everything that the media says and does is just to get massive freakin' loads of ratings."
"And worrying their viewers about some escaped mental patients will do that?" challenged Vinny, her eyes warningly narrowed. "They'll be too damn scared to grab the freaking remote!"
Ashton shrugged. "Hey, how should I know what goes on in all of those poisoned minds of theirs? I ain't a part of the media, but I can sense a lie from a mile away. The news channel, newspapers, magazines, and all of that freakin' bull is all for ratings."
"Ash-" Again, Utopia tried talking, but like before, she was cut off.
"If there aren't any escaped mental patients here, how do you explain my baby sister suddenly not in that crib anymore?" Johnny questioned, raising his voice only a little.
"How in the bloody hell should I know?" Ashton's lips tugged back to reveal his now grinding teeth. "I don't have the slightest damn clue where that sibling of yours could've went, but what I do know by heart is that you should cut the crap with these murderous kidnappers. I'm sure that it'll be a damn cold day in hell when some psychotic mental patients decide to come to this hotel when there clearly isn't many people staying here."
"You have a heart?" Curly raised an eyebrow. "It's pretty damn difficult to notice."
I usually wasn't such a gigantic ray of sunshine towards the Shepard's, considering that I actually didn't like them that much. When the rest of the gang and I found out from Dally and Darry that Tim, Angela, and Curly were the three other guests from Tulsa, I instantly thought that this vacation was going to be a world record for a massive disaster. Though, I must admit that I couldn't help myself to grow a smirk and chuckle softly at Curly's words.
Ashton shot Curly a death mock stare.
"Ashton, please-" Utopia wouldn't stop trying to get her voice heard, but it was like she was invisible to Ashton.
"Shut it, clown!" Ashton hissed at Curly, going on with nearly every word in the book under his breath.
Curly rolled his eyes. "I've been called worse by my own brother."
Ashton's teeth began to grind harder, and he pointed one of his fingers sharply at Curly. "Listen you little bi-"
"Please, Ashton, can you just stop? Just stop it and listen to what I have to say, would you? Please! I'd like to be heard out also!" Utopia practically exclaimed at the top of her lungs this time. By the sound of her voice, it was like she was about to break down into a waterfall of tears, but not a single drop of water was in either of her eyes.
Everybody froze, full attention now on the pretty brunette girl as she nervously bit down on her thumbnail. Complete quietness met the feasting hall again, but it wasn't long before Utopia began to talk again. She now sounded uncomfortable and somewhat guilty.
"Ashton, there's no point in tellin' any lies to these people any longer."
"Lies?" Angela concernedly raised her eyebrows at Mr. Roberts' daughter's words.
Hesitantly, Utopia nodded.
Ashton rolled his eyes. "Fine, but I was only followin' you and your old man's damn orders."
A soft, sharp breath seemed to get jammed in Utopia's throat, as if a lightening bolt painfully stabbed through her heart.
"Ashton, that's enough, okay?" Mr. Roberts stared at Ashton, his voice surprisingly soft when telling him an order like that.
Ashton uncaringly raised his shoulders. "Whatever."
Since when in the hell was that the way to talk to your girlfriend's father? I suspected that Mr. Roberts would've at least glared at Ashton, but to my surprise, he just kept his mouth shut.
"I must admit that Ashton's somewhat right about the media. They will do anything to get high ratings," Utopia began to speak again, but it wasn't long before a pout made its way across her face. She then regretfully sighed. "Unfortunately, there's no way that these escaped mental patients are made up. My father and I know for a fact that they have struck around here plenty of times. I told Ashton and made him swear not to tell since my daddy didn't want me to tell anyone 'bout the escaped mental patients to begin with. He allowed Ashton and only Ashton."
"Are you serious?" Faith's eyes were like two marbles, huge and glassy. Protectively, she had her arms crossed over her round stomach.
Tears began to meet the corners of Utopia's eyes. "Yes...and I'm very sorry."
Darry instantly shot his head over, and he stared with somewhat big eyes at Mr. Roberts.
"You mean," The oldest Curtis sounded both angry and fearfully shocked. "This is the hotel that I read about in the newspapers plenty of times back in Tulsa? Where many of guests have been found brutally killed, or have suspiciously gone missing?"
Ponyboy's eyes went gigantic. "That's it!" He snapped his fingers together. "That's where I heard of this place! I knew that I heard it somewhere else other than in school before, but I couldn't quite remember it until now!"
Mr. Roberts' lips went straight. "...It's true." He then sighed after a small pause.
Dally and Vinny instantly started swearing to themselves, and Soda did a face-palm.
Kitten placed her hands on her hips. "How come you didn't inform us before we checked in about all of this?"
"Bills got to pay and I have a daughter to feed. Ever since my wife passed away, money has been tight for Utopia and I. That's why I keep this hotel open as often as possible." Mr. Roberts shrugged his shoulders.
Vinny viciously showed her slimly grinding teeth. "So risking our freaking lives is worth you still findin' a damn way to get paid?"
"I'm honestly not proud of it," Mr. Roberts placed his hand over his heart. "My Utopia doesn't like it either, but we figured that these escaped psychopaths would've left us alone by now, considering there aren't many of you staying here for winter break."
Cassidy sternly crossed her arms over her chest. "Well as you can hopefully tell, you freaking considered it all wrong! Now my baby sister is missing because of those damn bitches that I knew I've witnessed by heart ever since our first damn night here!"
I could've sworn that I felt my heart freeze in my chest. I never imagined Cassidy using that kind of language on purpose, especially with that sudden loud and furious tone.
Johnny's dark eyes shot huge right when the first curse word flew out from his kid sister's mouth. "Cassidy Ellen Cade, what in the world has gotten into you? You know to never use that language!"
Cassidy's face glowed red almost instantly. The whole feasting hall met silence yet again, but it didn't last long. Cassidy stomped up from her chair and offered Johnny a rare glare. "Jonathan Alexander Cade, just get the hell off from my freakin' back, all right? Maybe if you do that, you'll damn understand why in the hell I'm usin' this language!" Hot tears of anger and possibly mixed sorrow began to form in the middle Cade's eyes.
"What?" Johnny sounded more hurt than anything. His voice was so quiet that you could possibly have a better chance at hearing a pin hit the floor.
The salty teardrops began to make their ways down Cassidy's face, and her sour scowl was taken over by a heartbreaking frown.
"Think about it, Johnny," She sniffled with disappointment, "if you actually believed me about the shadowy figure that I have been seein' often, maybe we could've packed up and been back on the road by now. We'd possibly be half way back to Tulsa, actually."
Uncomfortably, Johnny placed his right hand on his left shoulder, and his other went to his right hip. "So what are you saying, Cass?" He nearly squeaked. "Are you actually saying that...Jocelyn's kidnapping is all my fault?"
"As much as I always pictured you never bein' responsible for something like this..." Cassidy bit down on her thumbnail for a few seconds. "...Yeah...that's exactly what I'm saying. If you only cared to believe me-"
More tears flooded down Johnny's face. "But I do believe you!"
"Hell sure," Cassidy rolled her eyes, "of course you believe me now. However, it's too late, because our baby sister is gone and now we got to track her freakin' down! This is all of your damn fault, Jonathan!"
Dally smacked his hands down onto the table, which caused Johnny to yelp, and Faith jumped a little.
"That's 'nough out of you, little Cade! It isn't Johnny's fault that there are loony bitches on the lose, so you'd best stop tellin' him that this is all his fault!" ordered Dally.
Johnny's tears began to have no choice but to drip off from his face. "Dally, don't bother tryin' to correct her...I know that Jocelyn getting kidnapped is my fault."
My guilt was heavily pressing against the inside of my chest, and I nervously rolled my eyes all around. All of this disaster could've been avoided if I only bothered to tell at least one member of the gang about that news report that I saw. I shouldn't have been my cocky self and figured that classic teenage thing...it can't happen to me. Anything can happen to anybody, no matter if you're a good person or a bad one. It's like being a greaser or a Soc; that Bob Soc was killed by Johnny in self-defense because he was drunk and he tried drowning Ponyboy.
Jadelyn Thomas shook her head. "It is not your fault, Johnnycake! It's not any of our faults!"
Ashton rolled his eyes. "I still think that this is all some freakin' joke."
"If only somebody actually gave a damn what you thought. Not even Utopia cares, I bet." informed Tim with that usual smart tone of his.
Ashton shot him a scowl, but just as he opened his mouth, Tim grew a mocking smirk and said, "Don't bother. I've been in the cooler 'bout fifteen times just this month, so you can save whatever cuss words you had in store for my honor."
That instantly had Ashton shutting his mouth, but he continued to glare. Under his breath, he sourly hissed many curse words to himself, too.
Johnny clenched his watery eyes shut. "I just want my little Joce back!"
Quickly, Ponyboy got up from his seat and he caringly wrapped Johnny in an consoling hug. "Don't worry, Johnnycake. We're going to get her back no matter what. Right, Darry?"
"That's right," Darry approved, crossing his arms over his chest as he nodded a single time. "We'll start searching right away, but we got to be absolutely careful."
Mr. Roberts scotched himself out and stood up, pushing his chair back in afterwards. "I'll go get the police on the phone. They'll probably confirm having stakeouts in order to protect us and they'll have a better chance at bringin' those mental patients to justice once and for all." He gently touched Utopia's shoulders and caringly gave them a light squeeze. "Why don't you come with me, Utopia?"
"Yes, Daddy." Utopia softly spoke and nodded her head.
Everyone was dead silent, frozen where they were. When Utopia and her father made their way towards the doors that entered the kitchen, nobody would take their eyes off from them. The complete quietness remained in the feasting hall until Mr. Roberts and Utopia were no longer in sight.
"Hey, Ashton?" The sound of Jill's voice broke the stillness. She was grinning madly, as if she didn't hear anything about the escaped mental patients or Jocelyn's kidnapping.
Jill's smile grew more, causing her white teeth to be exposed. "I need to tell you somethin', so follow me, okay?"
Ashton cocked an eyebrow and hesitated for a few seconds. Nevertheless, it wasn't long at all before he simply shrugged his shoulders and said, "Yeah, okay. Fine. Let' just hurry it up."
Understandingly, Jill nodded her head, and Ashton swung his feet off from the table. He almost "accidentally" swung a kick at that other very pale boy who seemed awfully quiet. Luckily, Ashton didn't kick him; that was good too, because he did look pretty damn sick to me. It was like if you even nudged him in the ribs, he would've had no choice but to throw up or tip over and pass out. Speaking of this boy's ribs...was it just in my head, or did he look like he could've been mistaken for a skeleton? He might've been wearing baggy clothes, but that was the thing; he didn't look like he had any body underneath all of that lose fabric. Hm...that's just...that's very strange...
"...Hey, Cass?" Johnny quietly took his turn in breaking the quietness shortly after Jill and Ashton headed out of the feasting hall.
Cassidy's face was still bright red. "What?" She still sounded pretty harsh, but not as much as before.
Johnny's pout began to twitch at his lips, but he somewhat refused to allow another frown to successfully fly across his face.
"Why don't you come with me so we can try finding some clues to where Jocelyn could've been taken?"
Cassidy only gazed at him, more tears slowly taking their time to drip down her hot looking cheeks.
"I'd rather not...just leave me alone for a while, all right?"
Instead of giving her own brother time to say something back, Cassidy turned away and started to hurriedly walk away. In the small distance, you could hear the sounds of her heartbreaking whimpers and soft sniffles.
"Cassidy, please!" Johnny practically began to blow like a waterfall all over again. "I'm sorry! Please! You can't go by yourself!"
Kitten and Ponyboy quickly wrapped their arms around the oldest Cade, allowing him to shed every tear as they tried calming him down.
"Don't worry, Johnnycake," Pepsi-Cola quickly got up onto his feet. "I'll go talk to her, okay? Everythin' is goin' to be back to normal before we know it."
I took another drag of my cancer stick and puffed out a gray cloud after a couple of seconds. With what I was planning to do next, I needed as many drags from my cigarette as my lungs could handle right then.
"I'll come with you, Soda."
Soda offered me a tiny grin, and he nodded. "All right, that's tuff with me. Come on, Steve. Let's go get that middle Cade."
Again, I took a deep drag of my cigarette, and I followed Soda out of the feasting hall with my guilt only hardening and expanding more and more by the minute. As much as I didn't want to do what I had in mind of doing, I knew that I had to do it. It was the right thing to do...I just had to confess to someone that I knew about the escaped mental patients for a while now, but I refused to tell anybody else. Let's just hope that Soda of all people wouldn't get mad at me like Darry, Dally, or Vinny would.
Steve followed me, sticking close as we exited the feasting hall to hunt down Cassidy. She couldn't have gone far, and she wouldn't ever leave any place without a member from the gang by her side, especially Johnny, Dally, and/or Vinny.
Steve was smoking a cancer stick; he was like me when it came to cigarettes and smoking. He only smoked whenever he wanted to look tougher, or mainly because he had something heavily eating away at his mind. I knew what that feeling was like, considering I went through the whole Sandy thing when she shot down my proposal, moved away, and got knocked up with some other guy's baby. Nonetheless, Steve had a much more difficult home life with a depressed mother, dead unborn infant brother, and an alcoholic abuser for an old man. I grew up with two golden folks who would never lay a single hurtful finger on either me, Darry, or Ponyboy. That was actually something else that I had, but Steve didn't. Everybody in the whole gang had siblings, but Steve was an only child since his mom had that small "trip" down the staircase. Steve told me what his old man really did behind the miscarriage story.
"Hey," I gently nudged Steve in his side with my elbow. "Are you alright?"
Steve raised an eyebrow at me and blew out a cloud of smoke from his previous drag.
"Why? I mean, why are you asking?" questioned Steve.
My confusion and concern were only expanding. "You're smoking," I pointed at his cancer stick for a couple of short seconds. "I'm your best friend, Stevie. I know when somethin' is eating at you, so why don't you just go ahead and tell me what it is?" I offered him my happy-go-lucky grin, but to my surprise, he didn't even shed the slightest hint of a smile in return. Usually he always grinned back at least a tiny bit.
Again, Steve took a drag of his cigarette. "You have no idea how much I want to, Pepsi..." He tried to blow a perfect smoke ring a few times.
"Well," I shrugged, "why don't you?"
"Because I feel like you're goin' to hate me if I tell you this."
Complete concern instantly began to swarm around in my eyes. I could tell by the sound of Steve's voice that he was being serious, but we've been closer than any best buds in the whole universe since grade school. Why would he believe that I would hate him?
"Steve, what's going on? I'm serious, I need to know." I kept my cool like I wanted to do. "We've been best pals since we were children...I'd never hate you over anything."
Quietness met between Steve and I, which had the two of us now frozen in our tracks and staring directly at each other.
I didn't bother to say another word because that would cut into what was really important. Usually nothing could take over Steve's mind, other than his old man; but that couldn't have been why Steve was suddenly so worried about something. Mr. Randle wasn't in Kansas with us and he kicked Steve out yet again a few days before we left Tulsa for this vacation anyway.
Finally, Steve sighed. "It's about those escaped mental patients, Pepsi-Cola..."
I bit down on my thumbnail. "What about 'em?"
My best buddy sighed again, this time more quiet though. "When I got out of the shower here...I saw on the news that these escaped mental patients were on the lose...but when the news reporter said that their kidnapped and murdered victims are centered around this hotel, I didn't believe that somethin' like that could happen to us. I thought that since not many guests were stayin' here for winter break, we would be absolutely safe and secure. Unfortunately, I just found out that hiding that previous news report wasn't as fine as I thought it was before."
I stared at Steve, my eyes now wide and heart feeling like it was about to burst from pumping so hard. Steve and I never hid secrets from each other.
"Remember Fair Fill-Ups? You know, that last gas station Darry had Dally stop by for us to get gas and food and drinks?" Steve suddenly questioned when all he got from me in the first response was silence.
I touched my chin, crossing my free arm over my stomach as I locked the picture of Fair Fill-Ups into my head. "Oh yeah," I nodded then, "yeah, I remember now."
Steve flashed a frown. "Well, that brunette chick that I saw looking through the windows at us was found brutally murdered yesterday morning. Her mom discovered her body, and her old man just so happened to go through somethin' similar to her incident sometime last year."
My wide eyes only grew more, and my mouth slimly dropped open at the picture of some murder scene at Fair Fill-Ups. That was no less than fifteen-to-twenty minutes away from The County Lodge.
"Do you hate me now, Soda?" Steve asked with regret, shattering my thoughts.
Instantly, I shook my head and stuffed my hands into my jeans pockets. "Of course I don't hate you, Stevie. I understand why you didn't think you had to tell the rest of the gang and I 'bout that news report, but I must admit that I'm pretty disappointed that you didn't."
"I'm too cocky for my own good, I know." sighed Steve.
"Everybody has flaws, Steve," I told him, "but we can discuss this some more later, okay? Why don't you go back to the feasting hall and leave me to go find and chat with Cassidy?"
Slim nervousness swiped its way across Steve's face almost instantly. "Are you sure you'll be alright searchin' for her by yourself, Pepsi?"
I nodded and offered him another small smile. "Yeah, I'll be fine. I got my blade right in my pocket here, and Cassidy couldn't have gone far."
Steve bit down on his bottom lip, but just as he was about to say something, he stopped himself from speaking. "Hey, Soda?"
Concernedly, Steve's eyes narrowed. "You know what I just realized?"
I touched my chin with my index finger and studied his concern. "Hm?"
"Those escaped mental patients," stated Steve, "after goin' through the strange knocking noises, the doorknobs jiggling, the shadowy figures, and all of our other individual experiences-"
I quickly cut Steve off. "You mean like my DX cap somehow bein' found in the hallway? Or that strange phone call Kitty Cat told us she and Vin experienced?"
"Yeah, things like that," Steve nodded, "but as I was saying...have you noticed that pretty much all of our experiences happen durin' the night?"
I confusedly raised my eyebrows. "Yes, I've noticed. Where are you goin' with this exactly, Stevie?"
Steve took in a deep breath and held it in for a couple of seconds. Then he let it out and began to talk some more. "Well, all of our strange experiences with these escaped mental patients happen during the night. All of the doors and windows are latched shut and locked up durin' the night, but yet, these escaped mental patients have a way in. No breaking windows, busting down doors...nothin' like that though."
My eyes became glassy like, flooding with some new shock. "Steve, are you sayin' what I think you're saying?"
Steve nervously bit down on his bottom lip and nodded. "I'm afraid so, Pepsi-Cola...somebody in this hotel is working with the murderous kidnappers."