A Twisted Vacation

Ponyboy and Soda decide to convince Darry to take them to a hotel in Kansas for winter break. A vacation away from such a dangerous place like Tulsa and with your best friends sound tuff, right? However, some escaped mental patients just so happen to be on the lose. They just so happen to want revenge!


8. Tragedy First Strikes!

Cassidy's POV

God, how could I be so damn stupid? I burned my hand in hot water? What in the hell was I freaking thinking? I spend most of my time hanging out with Dally and Vinny back in Tulsa of all places and that's the best lie that I could come up with? I'm sure that a five-year-old begging for candy could've gotten away with something with a more convincing lie! Well...I guess it's fine since the gang believed it. Though I honestly thought that Johnny or at least Darry would've asked me to show them where I got burned. Luckily, neither of them did, but I had to go through the entire breakfast with my hands in my jeans pockets and my mouth clamped shut. I didn't want to risk accidentally saying something about Ashton, and I didn't want my voice to crack from any pain or sorrow.

I've never had such an experience like that before in my whole twelve years of being alive. I've been through a countless amount of rumbles, most without weapons and most with them, but I've never been grabbed in a dirty manner by any of 'em Socs. As for my dark home life, my old man might've got drunk on his ass and my mom might've popped pills, but they never said or done anything sexual to me, Johnny, or Jocelyn. I never imagined getting "sweet talked" like that by anybody, especially some seventeen-year-old guy who has a girlfriend. I guess that Johnny might know how it feels to get so-called sweet talked, considering Sylvia pushed him against the lockers at school and attempted winning his heart over. Johnny never even had his first kiss yet; that's how terrified he is around girls, minus the girls in our gang. I still can't believe that Dally ever bothered to stick with some slutty skank like Sylvia. Whenever Dally got thrown into the cooler, Sylvia was out and stealing some other innocent guys virginities.

That thought honestly scared me. If some "polite" girl like Sylvia could go out and get laid, whether the boys want it or not...it made me think about what else could've happened between Ashton and I. What if I didn't punch him to the floor, but did what Johnny told me to do in the past and scream for help? Ashton could've killed me right then or there...or worse, he could've covered my mouth and got me to go back to his room with him. At least Johnny had Steve there to protect him, threatening Sylvia to back off before she could possibly do God knows what else she had in mind.

I must've got no more than two hours of sleep so far. I kept waking up from nightmares of that Ashton getting his ways with me and that shadowy figure with the glowing red eyes. As for the other hours, I was busy softly crying to myself, making sure that I kept my tears under control in order to not wake Johnny, Dally, and Jocelyn up. At least I felt a little bit calmer with Johnny's arms securely wrapped around my waist, and Dallas Winston was in the other bed that had his knife collection secretly underneath it. That, and he had a recently sharpened switchblade on the nightstand. With those new thoughts in my mind, I was finally able to wipe away my salty tears and close my eyes. Thankfully, I fell fast asleep for about the billionth time that night.

Unfortunately, it wasn't long before I suddenly began to stir to what felt like fingers gently running through my hair. It must've been just 3:00 or so in the morning. Quietly, I groaned and gently nudged Johnny in the shin with my bare foot.

"Johnnycake, cut it out...I'm tryin' to sleep..." I yawned a little and kept my eyes shut, but my hair was still getting stroked. Johnny would always stroke my hair whenever I was upset about something, or I couldn't fall asleep to begin with. But didn't he just hear me say that I didn't want him to stroke my hair right then? This time, I nudged Johnny a little harder in the ribs, and I got a obviously exhausted moan quietly seeping from his lips.

"Johnny, please...stop stroking my hair...I can get back to sleep on my own..." However, Johnnycake wouldn't listen to me. That was strange, because he would usually stop whenever I asked him to, but he kept raking his fingers gently through my silky locks.

Finally, I groaned a little louder, this one more out of annoyance, and I gently pushed myself onto my back left side so I could see Johnny. The hair stroking instantly stopped. I opened my mouth to ask him again to quit it, but to my discovery, Johnny's eyes were dreamily shut, and he was soothingly breathing...he was out like a light. Confusion flooded my eyes as I also realized that both of his arms were still connected around my waist.

"Johnnycake?" I gently nudged his arm, but all I got from him were a couple of tired whimpers. He couldn't have been pretending to be asleep.

Nervousness and fear began to take over my mind. If Johnny wasn't stroking my hair...then who was? Dally couldn't have been doing it, and Jocelyn obviously couldn't have either. I continued to stare at Johnny's face, taking in how peaceful he looked. His heavily greased, jet-black bangs were all shagged up in front of his closed eyes. A slim grin made its way onto my face, and I carefully used my fingertips to gently stroke Johnny's bangs away from dangling right in front of his face. Luckily, I didn't wake him up; all I got him to do was quietly moan tiredly again.

Quietly, I couldn't help myself to snicker. Back in Tulsa, usually whenever our folks were out getting drunk at an opened all night bar, Johnny would brush my hair out of my face with his fingertips. There were times where I would just pretend to be asleep only so I could feel Johnny soothingly touching my hair. Afterwards, I would feel him give my temple a soft kiss and whisper about how much he loved me...he was the best big brother anybody could ever ask for.

I decided to see if I could carefully wiggle my way closer to Johnnycake so I could give him a little kiss, whether it was on his cheek, his forehead, or even his nose. I didn't care; I wanted to grow to be like him some day...but at the same time, I don't want to grow up and have to leave him one day. Luckily, that was still a long while away.

Just as I began to slowly move myself closer to Johnny, I peeked up at the other side of the bed for just a split second to realize something. My dark eyes shot huge, and I already started to feel my heart pick up the frightening pace in my now rapidly huffing chest. My breaths were deep and sharp, but soft so I wouldn't wake anybody up. Please tell me that I was dreaming, please oh please tell me that I was freaking dreaming! I must've been stuck in some nightmare! I couldn't have just saw...

I took in one final deep breath, forcing it to stay in my lungs. My heart beat faster and faster with each pump it roared in my chest. Hoping to death that what I just saw was my imagination, I forced myself to glance back over at the opposite side of mine and Johnny's double bed. Unfortunately, I was met with the same sight...and it terrified the living crap out of me.

My picked up breathing began again after I instantly released my previous deep breath from shock. Standing there at the other side of mine and Johnny's double bed...was the same exact shadowy figure that the gang and I saw on the road, and what I saw outside the window not many nights ago. The same oversized winter coat...the exact floppy rain hat...I'm guessing the pair of heavy boots...and what terrified me the most...the pair of glowing red eyes that were staring at me right then and there. They were viciously narrowed, as if this figure wasn't even a human, and he or she looked like at any moment now, they would do something to hurt me, Johnny, Dally, and Jocelyn.

Without thinking about how early it was in the morning, I allowed my fear to get the best of me yet again. A sharp jolt sprang through my entire body as my mouth fell open, and I yanked the covers up over my head as a piercing, bloodcurdling scream erupted from me. My eyes were now clamped shut tighter than ever before; goosebumps covered my skin, no matter how warm the beds were, and I began to feel as pale as a trembling ghost.

I could feel Johnny's body instantly jerk up by the time my scream came to a stop, followed by Dally's hoarse voice groaning out with annoyance, "Hell, what is it this freakin' time?"

It wasn't long after that until I heard Jocelyn begin to cry.

"Ugh," Dally heavily sighed. "Don't worry, baby Cade. I got you."

A colder chill was spiked at me shortly after Johnny grasped a hold of the covers and yanked them away from "hiding" me underneath. Knowing that I wasn't the only one awake anymore, I popped my eyes back open and felt a chilly sweat begin to form all over my body. I gazed at Johnny, seeing how nervous and tired he looked, but just as I was about to quickly point towards the other side of the bed, I realized something that gave my heart such a shocking jolt. The dark figure was gone. Again! Confusedly, I narrowed my fearful eyes and spied all around the room, but I didn't see any shadowy figure anywhere.

Dally was now cradling Jocelyn in his arms, hushing her quietly and running his fingers through her knotted up curls. Then he switched over to quietly humming a song to her and rubbing her back. Luckily, her loud cries began to fade, and she poked her thumb into her mouth. Her salty tears began to dry up, and she relaxingly battered her adorable, big eyes.

"Cassidy, what in the almighty world is goin' on? Why did you scream like that?" Johnny finally asked, concernedly battering his dark puppy dog eyes.

I quickly continued to stare all around the room, still seeing nobody else except Dally, Jocelyn, and Johnny. Finally, I made eye-contact with Johnny again; my dark eyes were huge and full of a mixture of unexpected shock, extreme worry, and of course, absolute fear. I attempted to answer Johnny's question, but every word that I wanted to say only seemed to get jammed in my throat. I was growing paler by the minute, trembling like tomorrow wouldn't ever come.

Johnny wrapped his arms around me, quietly hushing me as he stroked my hair with his fingertips. Now I could tell the difference between how he and that dark figure touched my hair; Johnny was gentle and comforting, but that shadowy figure was rougher and pressing his or hers fingers down some. My eyes were remaining huge and glassy like, and I rested my head on Johnny's chest. As I rapidly breathed to myself, I could hear the beatings of Johnny's heart madly going.

"I-I saw it again!" I bawled out, staining Johnny's pajama shirt with my salty tears. "I-It was here again!"

Dally curiously raised his eyebrows. "What was here again?"

I sniffled, allowing Johnny to stroke away some of my teardrops, but more only continued to drench down my face.

"T-That dark figure was here again! I saw them! H-He or she was s-stroking my hair!" I barely could get any of my words out; it felt like they were slowly being choked out of me.

Johnny's eyes seemed to go as wide as saucers, but were no where close to being as huge as mine. I could've sworn that the color rushed out of his skin; he looked as if he was about to be sick. I knew what that look of his meant. He was afraid, but I didn't know for sure if he would continue believing me if he did then or not.

I could've sworn that Dally began to go on with every word in the book, quietly keeping his language under his hoarse breath so Jocelyn wouldn't hear him. I could tell that he didn't believe me again...how couldn't he believe me? I never lied about anything before in my entire life, and I wouldn't start with something this serious! Why would I make up some dark figure and say that he or she was stalking us when we were supposed to be escaping all of the terror and suspense?

Just as Dally locked his eyes back on me and opened his mouth, there were a few fast and loud knocks at the door. Dally cursed more, but before he could throw his covers off from over him and probably grab his switchblade, the door flew open to reveal Two-Bit and Steve. They were both instantly screaming with protectiveness; their eyes were warningly narrowed, and in their hands, they were grasping different objects to most likely fight with. In Steve's hands, he held a lamp, and in Two-Bit's, he had an alarm clock. I guess since Jocelyn was in another one of her fussy fits hours ago, Dally, Johnny, and I forgot to lock the door since we were so tired by the time Jocelyn finally stopped crying.

Dally rolled his eyes, his face beginning to glow deadly red. "Can't you two shut the hell up?" He irritatingly demanded as he began to rock Jocelyn in his arms again.

Two-Bit confusedly cocked an eyebrow as he and Steve lowered their "weapons."

Steve groaned and tiredly ran his free hand through his hair. "Do I dare ask why Two-Bit and I woke up to some scream that sounded like it belonged to Cassidy?"

I opened my mouth to admit about the shadowy figure, but before I could get a word out, the Curtis' appeared with confusion in their eyes and concern written all over their faces. They look just as exhausted as Two-Bit and Steve, rubbing their somewhat droopy eyes and running their hands through their shagged up hair. Darry looked as if he was getting ready to beat somebody up, flexing his muscles and harshly glaring around.

"What in the hell is goin' on in here?" Vinny's impatient voice rang out, moaning with obvious drowsiness as she then appeared with Kitten slumping by her side.

"Yeah, Darry, Ponyboy, and I were jolted awake by the sound of a loud female scream." pointed out the somewhat nervous Sodapop.

"It was nothing," Dally spoke up before I got the chance to defend myself. "Cassidy just had a nightmare is all."

"That's all?" Steve cocked an eyebrow and pointed a thumb at Ponyboy. "Not even the kid screams that loud over some nightmare."

Lazily, Pony shot him a tired scowl, and Soda gave Steve a nudge in the ribs, which made him softly grunt.

My tearful eyes were now gigantic, completely glassy like after I heard Dally speak about some nightmare in the first place. The sweat dripping all around on my skin was only growing colder, even with me still resting myself against Johnny's warm chest.

"It wasn't a nightmare! It was real!" I practically exclaimed my words at the top of my lungs. More salty tears were only making their ways down my beating red face.

Darry concernedly raised his eyebrows. "What are you talkin' about, Cassidy?"

"Darry, she had a damn nightmare, all right?" Dally's eyes were now narrowed, and he was beginning to raise his voice.

I clenched my hands into tight fists and I began to grind my teeth together. That was the last freaking straw. My tears of fear and sorrow were now beginning to become beating hot from impatience and anger.

Furiously, I bellowed out without thinking, "Stop lying, Dallas! I didn't have any damn nightmare!"

Stunned silence instantly met the room. My face grew redder, but this time was out of embarrassment. I knew better than to use that kind of language, especially to my own friends and with my baby sister in the same room. Nervously, I began to slowly roll my eyes all around, gazing anywhere but at any of the gang. I shamefully twirled my thumbs around each other, wishing that I could change what just happened. I didn't want to turn into some bitchy jackass, but I was trying to get the truth out. How come nobody would believe me though?

Vinny was glaring at me, as if she was saying, "Nobody talks like that to my brother but me!" To my surprise, Dally looked just as shocked as everybody else in the gang did. Instead of giving me a ticked off scowl like he would usually do to anyone, he was nibbling on his bottom lip and looking at me with big eyes.

"Cassidy Ellen Cade!" Johnny's voice finally broke the silence, but I could tell that he wasn't pleased. I felt him tug at my arm, but when I refused to look at him from my shame, he cuffed his hands carefully around my face and made me make eye-contact. His soft eyes that were usually full of shyness and care were now narrowed, swarming with shock, tiredness, and that rare anger all in one.

"You know better to use language like that! I haven't allowed it since you heard your first cuss word, so what makes you think that you can cuss now?" Johnny demanded to know, keeping his voice soft, but a little louder than usual.

"I didn't mean to!" I honestly replied, sniffling and wiping away some of my tears. "I'm just tryin' to get you to listen! You're my own brother and Dally is one of our good friends, but you two still won't believe me! You think I'm crazy!"

Kitten crossed her arms over her chest and worriedly frowned. "Crazy? Dally, Johnnycake, what's she talking about?"

Before either of them had a chance to respond, I couldn't help myself to throw my arms around Johnny. I held myself close and bawled like a baby, shedding every tear into the crook of his neck. I didn't need to see anybody to know that they all were only growing more surprised, except Dally and Johnny since they knew what was running through my mind.

"Oh, Cass...we never said that you were crazy; you're not crazy at all. It's just that...well, you're the only one who seems to be goin' through this type of stuff." I sooner felt Johnny's fingers running through my silky hair again. The tone of his voice was back to its usual shy and caring volume, which had me feeling at least a tiny bit relieved. Unfortunately, we weren't making any progress with the actual problem.

"Um...what type of stuff does Cassidy seem to be going through exactly?" Ponyboy questioned, holding a yawn back as he rubbed his eyes.

Johnny sighed. "Apparently, she said that she saw that dark figure from our road trip here outside our window on our first night here. As for tonight, she said that she woke up from her hair bein' stroked, and when she noticed who it was, it was the exact shadowy figure."

"What?" Vinny shook her head with disbelief and placed her hands on her hips. "That's impossible! We're on the seventh floor!"

I eagerly shook my head. "No it's not! I saw him or her with my own eyes! Whoever they were, they were climbing outside and staring right back at me like they knew who they were going after and where they were!"

"But when I went by the window to check, there wasn't anybody out there." Dally interrupted me, probably just in case I started to babble on. "As for tonight, she saw the same exact figure, but it must've vanished again because neither Johnnycake or I saw it."

I could've sworn that I saw Steve beginning to pick at his bottom lip, as if he had something now heavily weighing on his mind. Johnny must've noticed it too, because it wasn't long before he shattered the new quietness with, "Are you alright, Steve?"

Steve bit down on his thumbnail, hesitating for a few seconds before he nodded. Slim confusion was glowing in his eyes, and you could tell that he was thinking about something. "Yeah, I'm fine, Johnnycake."

Ponyboy was now as pale as I was, holding himself tightly between his brothers, who now had their eyes as wide as saucers all over again. Two-Bit and Kitten exchanged their concerned and questioning looks, while Vinny rolled her eyes, and Steve stared at the floor. This strange knot was only tightening more and more in the pit of my stomach by every passing second. It was as if something was telling me that the whole gang had some kind of secret, but no-one was opening up because they thought that it was no big deal.

"Let me guess, you all don't believe me either?" I sniffled, expecting a straight away "No" from everybody, but to my surprise, no-one spoke up right away.

Darry scratched his chin. "I honestly don't know what to believe, considering I don't see why some shadowy figure would be comin' after us."

"There isn't any dark figure!" Vinny groaned as she did an irritated face-palm. A string of curse words followed, which had Dally covering Jocelyn's ears since he knew how much Johnny hated it when she or I heard any language like that. "There wasn't anybody dark or shadowy followin' us from the beginning! Like Darry told us on the freaking drive up here, that so-called figure was just in our heads! We all recently woke up, it was still dark outside, and we were hungry as hell!"

By this time, Soda had even placed his hands over Ponyboy's ears. "Vinny, that's enough, all right? Cassidy, Johnny, and Dally are just tellin' us what's been going on with them! The least we can do is listen like the friends we are to 'em!"

Kitten narrowed her eyes and gave Vinny a cold stare. "You must make the devil very proud. You know, bein' such a bitch and all."

Vinny's lips instantly pulled back, revealing her now grinding teeth. Her face had instantly struck red, and her eyes sharply narrowed. Furiously, she raised both of her middle fingers at Kitten. "You know what, Andrews-" Vinny began to snarl like a junkyard dog, but Darry quickly cut her off. Impatience was sparking up in his sore looking eyes, and a look of warning anger swiped across his face.

"That's enough!" The oldest Curtis proclaimed. "Need I remind you all how I specifically said that we need to be on our best behaviors? If we keep it up like this, we'll most likely get kicked out and our winter break will be us driving back to Tulsa, bored and snowed in back at our place! No more fighting! We're supposed to be on vacation for the first time ever together, so cut the frustrating bull crap!"

Everybody was frozen and wide-eyed, looking at Darry as he ran his hands through his hair and took in a deep breath to remain calm.

Vinny rubbed her hands together and suddenly looked uncomfortable, like she actually regretted acting like that. No, that couldn't have been it; no matter what she said or did, Vinny Winston would never be sorry. That just so happens to run in the Winston family tree, I guess, but at least Dally has a softer spot for me, Johnny, and Jocelyn.

"I'm sorry," Darry apologized when releasing his deep breath. "I just don't want our first vacation together to be such a disaster."

I flashed my puppy dog pout that looked a lot like Johnny's and sighed. "Why do you guys think I didn't want to talk about the shadowy figure?"

"Cassidy, you're just scared," Darry told me as he crossed his arms over his chest. "I mean, this is our first time getting out of Tulsa, so you're probably homesick or somethin' like that. Tulsa may be pretty banged up, but it's still our hometown."

"So none of you believe me about the dark figure?" I continued to frown like that hopeless puppy. Nobody said anything back to me; the room became deadly quiet all over again, and I noticed that I was receiving some pity looking expressions. I didn't want any pity; all I wanted was to be believed by my own friends and brother. Was that really too much to ask?

"Cassidy-" Johnny attempted saying something, but he stopped whence I released a sigh.

"Fine, don't believe me," Plead was starting to dazzle up in my eyes, "but whether you believe me or not, whether it's sooner or later, I'll continue to have a strange feeling 'bout this place, you hear?"

Steve looked like he was growing more concerned about something, but I didn't bother to say anything.

"We just don't want you to get yourself all worked up over something that's probably in your head." explained Kitten. Unfortunately, that only had me crossing my arms and shaking my head, growing somewhat annoyed all over again. Though, I still didn't say anything; I've had enough talking for one early morning, especially since I now understood that everybody from the gang was basically against whatever I said about this shadowy figure.

"I bet everything will get better, Cassidy," Darry said, which had Soda slimly nodding. "There's no need to be upset or anything, okay? Like I said before, you're probably just homesick and it is only 3:15 in the morning."

Ponyboy connected his hands around the back of his neck, now looking like he was hiding something too. "Darry, what about the strange knocks that we heard, along with our room's doorknob jiggling just about an hour ago?"

Soda suddenly looked a little bit unsure himself. "And didn't you say that my DX cap was just abandoned there in the hallway? I mean, I didn't even take it out of our room."

Darry touched his chin and hummed quietly to himself. He then narrowed his eyes in a thinking manner, obviously trying to sort this all out like Superman would do.

Two-Bit raised his eyebrows at Steve, but in return, Steve slimly shook his head a few times. I didn't know what they were doing, but I had this feeling that they must've experienced something as well. Two-Bit must've been asking Steve if they should bring it up, and Steve denied it.

"I honestly don't think that we have anythin' to worry over," Darry's voice broke the quietness, "there's probably just a prankster runnin' 'round this hotel. It wouldn't surprise me if it was that very pale boy...I believe Ashton was his name."

After I heard Ashton's name fly out of the eldest Curtis' mouth, I instantly felt sick to my stomach. My eyes widened, and I tucked my hands into my pajama shirt's sleeves to hide my skin. I couldn't risk the gang attempting to question me about "my burned hand."

"But why would anyone bother to play these kind of pranks? Especially passed curfew?" I asked.

"I'm afraid that I can't answer that," Darry shrugged his shoulders, "but I think that Mr. Roberts would've told us if anything strange was goin' on in his hotel."

Again, silence met the room, but it was shattered when Steve crossed his arms and said, "That's actually a good point. It's actually expected for any owner to inform their visitors about any troubles if there were any."

Dally rolled his eyes and rested Jocelyn back down in the crib. She was now sucking on her thumb to the point where she was going to fall back asleep at any moment.

"Great," Dally impatiently moaned, "now that we know that there's nothing goin' on around here, can't we go back to bed?"

A goofy, madman like smirk instantly came across Two-Bit's face, and he chuckled out, "You Winston's are certainly not morning people, aren't you?"

Vinny rolled her eyes, but didn't say anything back to the wisecracker of our gang.

"Two-Bit, I'd watch it if I were you! You're already on freakin' thin ice with me!" hissed Dally, who was now holding up a clenched fist. "I may be exhausted as hell, but I can still serve somebody a painful ass kicking!"

"Stop it, Dally!" Darry ordered. "Let's all just get back to sleep! Breakfast here comes fast, so let's get going before we possibly get caught for bein' out of our rooms passed curfew, okay? We'll talk 'bout this more if we have to in the morning."

Ponyboy and Soda nodded, being the first ones to exit mine, Johnny, Dally, and Jocelyn's room.

As for Two-Bit, I noticed him suddenly cocking an eyebrow at me. Then I realized that he must've been catching on about how my hand wasn't actually burned. But before Two-Bit could possibly say something, Steve nudged him and told him to come on.

"There shouldn't be anythin' to discuss...you know that right, Darry?" Vinny practically growled with that same Winston toughness returning from her blood.

Kitten shook her head a few slow times, and she rolled her emerald eyes. "Just shut the hell up, would you, Vin? Nobody is ever in the mood to encounter your wiseass attitude!"

"If you think I care 'bout that, Andrews, then you should just start a conversation with my other friend here." Vinny raised one of her middle fingers again, but she instantly put it back down when she heard Darry's voice. Kitten's scowl vanished right away, too.

"I already said that that's enough with you two arguing! Can't you just grow on each other already? Think about that as you scram back to your room and get some more sleep, would you?"

Kitten hesitantly nodded her head and began her way out of the room with Vinny softly storming behind her. That just left Darry standing there in the doorway with his eyes glued on me, Dally, and Johnny.

"Don't worry about anything, Cassidy. I assure you that everything is going to be all right, and this vacation will turn around for you." Darry offered me a small grin, as if I was the only one in the room with him. I took a moment to digest his words, but just as I was about to open my mouth to say something back, I could've sworn that some dark shadowy sprang its way passed Darry without him even noticing.

My eyes shot huge, but before I could say anything, Dally beat me to it.

"Hey, Darry," Dally raised an eyebrow, "I think Two-Bit or Kitten or someone just bounced across your back, down to the other end of the hallway."

"What?" Darry confusedly turned himself around and studied the hallway, gazing back and forth, each time a little slower than the last. "Um..." Darry took a few more peeks around the dim hallway before he gazed back at me, Dally, and Johnny again.

"Well?" Dally raised his shoulders.

"Your eyes must me playing tricks on you guys or something," Darry informed the three of us. "Nobody else is out here anymore."

Dally looked concerned, but like the Winston's do, he just shrugged it off like it never happened within a couple of seconds.

"Are you sure, Darry?" Johnny suddenly sounded just as nervous as I did before. He must've saw that shadow like shape, too.

Darry took another glance into the hallway before he nodded. "Yep, I'm sure. No-one else is in sight. Anyway, get some sleep, all right? Breakfast will be ready before we know it."

"Mind lockin' the door?" questioned Dally, who already had his eyes shut again, and his hands were resting underneath his neck.

"Sure," Darry simply shrugged and did what Dally asked him to do. "Now I'll see you at breakfast. Good-night."

"Night, Darry." Johnny and I both said as we got snuggled back underneath the covers of our bed. After that, Darry closed our door behind him, leaving me, Johnny, Dally, and Jocelyn now comfortably tucked in and feeling sleepy all over again. No matter how much I attempted releasing that dark figure from my mind, I knew that I just couldn't. Something wasn't going on right here...but before I saw it coming, I was too comfortable resting warmly besides Johnny, and I was back out like a light. Unfortunately, I should've known that something was hiding underneath the bed.

Dally's POV

No matter how much I tried kicking the words out of my head, I was actually struggling with doing so. I never struggled with anything, especially when it came to me forgetting about something that I didn't want to think about. However, this was somehow much more difficult for me to get rid of for some unknown reason. What Kitten told me about Vinny had me having a harder time falling back to sleep at first. If anything bad ever happened to Vinny, I would never forgive myself...why in the hell would Kitten tell me something like that? It's as if she was treating me like I was Vinny's actual old man or something, but I'm nothing but her step-brother. That's all that she's seen me as since day one, so I could tell that I would always be that so-called bitchy hoodlum who shared half of her blood in her eyes.

Besides, I don't see how things could get worse for mine and Vinny's relationship. When helped run this gang back in New York a few years ago, the leader asked me to go out to "buy" a few Cokes and some more cancer sticks. Of course, I followed his instructions and left, thinking that Vinny would have no trouble staying behind with some of the other guys that were given the nicknames Poison, Thunderbolt, Chains, and Moocher. I was gone for about ten minutes, but when I made my way back into the secret hideout, which was in this abandoned factory, I found Chains and Poison holding Vinny down. Moocher was trying to cut her shirt off with his switchblade, and Thunderbolt was grabbing her in certain places that had me boiling more than lava. After I saw that...let's just say that those guys must've had to start learning how to eat with no muscle control...or even hands. My kid sister was almost raped, so I have no idea what Kitten means by me regretting anything bad happening to her when so much already has.

When I began to stir and my eyes cracked open, I realized that the sun was now shining through the window. Softly groaning, I pushed myself up into a sitting position and gazed at the clock. After I puffed my almost white bangs from dangling in front of my eyes, I saw that it was 8:45; fifteen minutes were left before the wakeup call would ring everybody again.

I blinked the remains of my drowsiness away and I threw the warm covers off from my body. Then I made sure I was as quiet as possible for a change, standing up from my bed and stretching to wake my muscles up. Johnnycake, Cassidy, and even little Jocelyn were still fast asleep; I didn't want to wake any of them up after what happened very early this morning. That, and Jocelyn threw one of her tantrums that had me, Johnny, and Cassidy exhausted as hell by the time she was finished.

I attempted not to smirk at the sight of Cassidy snuggled up to Johnny's chest, and his arms were lazily connected around her back. Their hair was all shagged up, resting all over the place. Quietly, I stepped over to their bed and tucked the covers around them better. After that, I did the same to Jocelyn, cuddling her little teddy bear closer to her while I was at it. I was lucky that I didn't wake any of them up; the three of them had enough of a hard time trying to catch any sleep back at their so-called home with their jackass folks.

Since I still couldn't stop thinking about what Kitten told me, I decided that maybe if I did just one small thing for Vinny, I would be able to stop thinking about it once and for all. Lucky for me, I already had something small in mind. Coffee...out of every drink that The County Lodge served, they didn't have coffee...but I remember how much Vinny just loved to have a fresh cup of coffee when we were in New York. There were even times where she would practically beg me to buy her one, but she knew that I didn't have any money. Actually, I'm pretty sure that's how she learned how to steal, thanks to me "buying" coffee for her a countless amount of times.

After I combed and greased my hair; and I got dressed in a plain white T-shirt, a pair of worn out; dark blue jeans, my black leather jacket, and a pair of my pointed toe boots, I didn't wait to head out, but not without swiping up my one blade from the nightstand. There was this place that the gang and I passed on the way here that just so happened to sell coffee. It was only about seven minutes away, so I knew that I could handle a simple walk there and back.

By the time I got back to The County Lodge from my little trip, it was five minutes passed 9:00. There was a longer line than I thought there would be when I first got to that coffee place, but all I could do was curse under my breath about it. If we weren't on a vacation, I would've yanked out my switch, but I wasn't in the mood to going to some Kansas jail for winter break.

"Hey, Dally!" Johnny came up to me with his breakfast being held in his hands.

I leaned coolly against the wall and offered him a small smirk. In my free hand, I was holding a decent sized cup of coffee. "Hey, Johnnycake. Where's Jocelyn at?"

Johnny glanced up at the ceiling for a moment. "Still upstairs sleeping. Since she cried a whole lot yesterday night, I figured that she needed some more rest. But what about you? Cassidy and I woke up and realized that you were gone."

I nodded. "Yeah, I had to go out to take a little trip to this coffee house."

"Coffee house? Dally, you hate coffee, right?" Johnny confusedly raised his eyebrows.

"Vinny likes it though," I informed, "so would you mind gettin' her to come over here? I tried motioning her over about five times, but she won't listen."

Johnny waited for a few seconds, just staring at me with complete innocence before he shrugged and nodded. "Sure, Dally."

"Thanks, Johnnycake."

I kept another little smirk away from my face as I watched him head up to Vinny and give her shoulder a tap. It looked like she was talking to Two-Bit about something, but after she felt Johnny gently touch her shoulder, she turned around and locked her eyes on him. Johnny pointed over in my direction, and reading his lips from where I was standing, I could tell he said something like, "Dally wants you." Vinny's eyes instantly narrowed, and she rolled them with annoyance as she stood up from her seat.

I quietly groaned to myself, already having a difficult time believing that I made myself do something small for somebody like her.

"What do you want, Dally?" Vinny uncaringly gazed at her fingernails after she made it over to me.

I rolled my eyes, keeping my forming irritation back the best that I could. "Well good mornin' to you too, sunshine. If it's not too much to cut into your dear breakfast time, I just wanted to give you something."

Vinny cocked an eyebrow and gave me a somewhat hard, but also curious stare. I offered her the cup of coffee, hanging it in front of me, but all Vinny did was look at it. It was as if she's never seen a white plastic cup before in her entire life.

At first, I waited for about five seconds, but after that, my annoyance was only beginning to expand. "Aren't you goin' to take it?"

"What is it?" questioned Vinny.

I narrowed my eyes, as if I was saying, "Are you freaking kidding me?"

"What do you think it is?" I softly, but irritatingly asked. "It's a cup of coffee."

Vinny stubbornly crossed her arms. "I don't even like coffee!"

My eyes widened a little. "Yes you do! I remember that I used to steal it for you nearly every morning when we lived in New York! Now you just have Darry make you a cup when he makes his own!"

I honestly sometimes thought back to how much I liked "buying" coffee for Vinny; I never bothered to say anything though.

Silence formed between the two of us for about five seconds before Vinny said something else.

"You still remember that?"

I hesitantly nodded, and another small piece of silence came until my kid sister touched her chin. She raised her eyebrow again and scanned the cup of coffee.

"...How do I know that you didn't spit in that coffee or something?"

I shook my head a few gentle times and rolled my eyes. Growing more impatience, I joked with, "Would it matter if I did? We have half the same DNA!"

"Dally!" Vinny impatiently growled, placing her hands on her hips. "I'm not foolin' around with you! Did you spit in it?"

"Do you want me to spit in it?" I began to raise my voice to be even with hers. "And just in case you're wondering, that's a 'no' response to your question, Valerie!"

Instantly, Vinny's eyes shot huge, and her face seemed to flash redder than the devil's after she heard me call her by her real name. Her eyes pooled up with rage, just as her lips peeled back to reveal her now grinding teeth. I rolled my eyes, but before I got the chance to tell her that it was just a name, I was greeted with a hard slam across the face. Vinny had punched me right in my cheek, sending my head sharply over in the direction her fist went. Luckily, I didn't fall, but I didn't have a chance to say anything back.

"You know how much I despise my real name, Dallas!" Vinny sourly snarled as she snatched the cup of coffee from my hand. "Now you better think twice before ever saying it again!"

I sharply narrowed my eyes and held my cheek from where I could tell it was starting to turn red. Quietly, I cursed to myself, and I watched as Vinny began to walk away from me.

"You know," I called out to her, harshly stomping my foot a single time. "Kitten is right! You could work on your bitchiness, kid sister!"

"Stay the hell out of my business, big brother!" I didn't need to see her face to know that she just rolled her eyes.

Irritated, I did a face-palm, right before I ran my hand through my hair and hissed plenty of cuss words under my breath. It then wasn't long when I suddenly heard somebody snickering not that far away from me. Confusedly, I raised my eyebrow, but my eyes grew a little whence I heard this male voice greet me with a, "Hey, Dally!"

I snapped my attention over in the direction where I heard the voice, and soon enough, my eyes locked on none other than Tim Shepard. He was smirking like a madman with his arms crossed over his black T-shirt that had a picture of a wolf howling up at the full moon designed on it. Not only that, but that okay broad Jade was standing beside him, smirking a little herself. Her dog sat beside her legs, panting.

"Tim Shepard?" I spoke, hiding my shock the best that I could.

Tim bowed his head. "The one and only, yes."

"What in the hell are you doin' here?"

He stuffed his balled up fists into his worn out jeans pockets and shrugged. "Long story short: I gambled a few more hundred dollars than usual, I didn't know what to do with it, Angela and Curly wanted to get out of Tulsa for awhile, and so I decided to bring 'em here for a vacation."

I touched my chin with my right hand's index finger and decided to study the way that Jade looked. She was dressed in a neon purple T-shirt, a dark brown jean jacket, a dirty pair of tennis shoes, and a faded pair of gray jeans that had some holes around the fabric that covered her thin shins. As for her highlighted hair, it was left like it was yesterday when I first saw her. Flat down with her bangs somewhat dangling in front of her glowing eyes.

"Valerie is still the same smartass that others say she is, huh?" Jade covered her mouth a little and chuckled.

I crossed my arms. "It's Vinny," I groaned, "trust me, I'm doin' you one hell of a favor by tellin' you that again! And yeah, she's quite a bitch."

"All little sisters are bitches, man. You better get used to it," Tim groaned and rolled his eyes, obviously annoyed. "We're goin' to be older than them for the rest of our lives, so we got no freaking choice but to suck it up."

Jade suddenly looked uncomfortable, gazing around anywhere but at me or Tim as she bit down on her bottom lip. "Um...I don't mean to interrupt your guys only chat or anything, but you should know that not all kid sisters are bitchy. It just depends on a whole lot that makes them unreasonable, you know?"

I shook my head and rolled my eyes. "Unreasonable my ass! That's a complete understatement when it comes to my Vinny! She never listens to any word I say! It's as if all she hears is a repeating beeping sound whenever I talk to her!"

At the tone of my slightly raising voice, Jadelyn's dog that I believe she told me was named Zeus, began to softly growl at me. Nevertheless, he stopped when Jade shushed him, causing him to pleadingly whimper a bit.

"Dally, Angela does the same to me, but what can we do about it? Nothing!" Tim scowled and shook his head. "Curly and I can only keep 'em boys away from her, but other than that, she goes behind our backs and does whatever the hell she wants! Did I tell you that she started smoking?"

"Only about twenty times since you first caught her lightin' up for the first time." Man, a cigarette sounded damn good to me right then, but I knew that I couldn't risk getting kicked out of the hotel just for one cancer stick.

"At what age did Vinny start smoking?" questioned Tim, curiousness sparkling in his eyes.

I simply shrugged. "On her sixteenth birthday, so only a few months ago. But I've been cuttin' her off lately."

Angela was only fourteen, and Curly was going to be sixteen in another month...I think.

"I don't smoke," Jade suddenly said, still looking strangely uncomfortable about something. "I don't drink either."

Tim raised an eyebrow at her, but then shrugged after a few seconds. "Well, this is was a jolly good conversation and all of that other minding yours manners bull shit, but I think that I should go find Curly and Angela. The last thing I need is them breaking anything, or catching the whole hotel in flames. I'll chat with you guys some other time. See you 'round, Dally."

I nodded. "Later, Tim."

He gave a single wave good-bye before he headed out of the feasting hall.

Jade's POV

Sara wasn't a bitch...I loved her with all my heart, and she admired me just as much in return. I mean, sure she threw some tantrums here and there, but every young child did, even as a teenager. At least Tim and Dally still had their little sisters...mine was dead, and we got along perfectly nearly all the time. I missed taking my turn in the morning to wake her up with a tickle fight; she would sometimes be the first one up, so she would bounce up and down on my bed to get me to wake up. My mom would've been making our favorite breakfast, French toast with bacon and eggs on the side. Sara would sometimes try to stick her little fingers in the batter whenever our mother would make pancakes, and I would snicker every time she poked those fingers into her mouth that was shaped into a perfect smile. Our old man would've been flipping through the newspaper with a freshly made cup of coffee resting in front of him, but it wouldn't be long until he would give Sara and I our good morning kisses and ask us how his beautiful daughters slept.

My mother was actually five months pregnant when she and Sara passed away in that car accident. I would've been preparing for a baby brother today if it wasn't for that drunk driver, and my kid sister would still be here, my mom would still be here...my whole life would've been the same, somehow getting better each day. However, everything in my life was taken away because of a dumbass drunk driver. My mom, my kid sister, and my unborn baby brother were up in the sky, and my old man became an alcoholic worker. All I had now was Zeus and the open road.

"You know something, Dally?" I spoke up, breaking the silence with a serious tone. "You might say that Vinny's a bitch...but you know that you love her to death, and you wouldn't be able to live with yourself if somethin' ever happened to her."

To my surprise, Dally rolled his eyes like he didn't even care if Vinny was dead or not.

"Look, I already got that from one of my friends. I don't need to hear it again from some broad that I just met yesterday."

I narrowed my eyes a little. "First off, I'm not a freakin' broad, so you can clean that word you apparently labeled me with out of your mouth!" I hissed, right before I raised my hands up to my shoulders. "Secondly, I guess I'm sorry for restating a fact."

Dally crossed his arms, hesitating as he studied me from my shoes to my head a few times. He then flashed a tiny smirk.

"Oh would you look at that," I joked to myself, but loud enough for Dally to hear me, "he actually does smile."

"How the hell do you survive Tulsa with that soft attitude?" Dally smartly asked, mockingly chuckling with his words.

I finally narrowed my eyes completely, and my lips tugged back to reveal my now clenching teeth. "Of course you would think I'm soft! You think you're all that, always will be on top of bein' the most troubling jackass around on the bitchy charts, right? And I manage livin' in such a crap hole like Tulsa one way or the other, don't I? Otherwise I wouldn't be here now!"

"Newsflash for you," Dally raised his eyebrows with what surprisingly looked like satisfaction to me. "You're definitely not the only one, so you can drop the badass act right now, Jade."

"It ain't any act, Winston. It's my actual other half." I corrected him, but that only had him rolling his eyes. That had my other half only taking me over even more. "If you don't freaking believe me, then why don't you look up Richard Thomas when we get back to Tulsa? You can discover how difficult my life actually is then!"

"Oh, so you want to challenge me, huh?" Dally hissed like a vicious snake. Zeus instantly rose back up on his four paws and got down into his leaping position. Rage was pooling up in his warning dark eyes, and his deadly pointed teeth were now exposed through his curled back lips. Honestly, I would let him take a bite out of Dally to teach him a lesson, but I wasn't going to for two reasons. One, there were other people around, and two, I was a better person than that. I tugged at Zeus' leash and somewhat loudly shushed him, ordering him to stop acting like that unless I signaled him after somebody. Instantly, Zeus' ears dropped, and his eyes flooded with plead for forgiveness as he sat back down beside my legs like he was trained to do. Not being able to help myself, I gave the back of one of his ears a few scratches. In return, he panted and wagged his tail. When I stopped, I gazed back at Dally, who looked bored.

I gazed at my nails, as if I was just as bored as him with our conversation. "Dally, I bet that you always think that you have it harder than everyone. Haven't you ever considered that there are other people who have been going through way worse things since they were first born?"

"Why don't you try before you were first born?" snarled Dally, his tone challenging. "My old man was a freakin' player! He was dating no less than five other sluts that he met at some cheap bar when he was married to my mom! Nonetheless, after she told him that she was pregnant with me, he abandoned her just like that! No good-bye, no nothing! All he did was snatch up his car keys, throw down his wedding ring, and leave my mom all own to raise me!"

I instantly became uncomfortable; many flashbacks from my parents and kid sister were coming back to me. We used to be one golden family, having ups and downs from time to time like any other family would. There would be many arguments and orders that Sara and I weren't fond of when it came to our mom and dad. Of course, we would bicker back, causing ourselves to get grounded and have the things we loved to do taken away. Sara wouldn't be able to play with her dolls, and I wouldn't be allowed to go out with my friends. But my parents still loved us, just as much as Sara and I would always love them...until that drunk driver rammed into Sara and my mom when they went shopping for my baby brother. My life was basically shattered completely. No mother, no kid sister, no baby brother, and an 24/7 alcoholic worker for a father. I tried my best in school, but with my slowly dropping grades, I had no idea if I would make it to college since the deaths of my sister, mom, and unborn brother are stuck in my head.

When I didn't say anything, Dally clenched his hands into trembling fists and went on.

"You have no idea how hard my mother had to work! All day she worked with me until some babysitter had to come over, and at night, she worked at the Dingo! She spent all of her money on our food, clothes on our backs, a roof over our heads, and my education! And for what? I ended up droppin' out from that living hell called school because I didn't understand a damn thing! And when you think that things can't possibly get any worse for me, you're freaking wrong!"

A frown began to tug at the edges of my mouth. Sorrow also flooded my eyes, which was rare to ever happen since I was usually happy-go-lucky all the time.

"Dally-" I attempted taking my turn to talk with a calm voice, but I instantly shut up when Dally shook his head at me. Rage was written all over his now completely red face, and his eyes were sharply narrowed. I should've kept my other side hidden from him; we were on a vacation, so I didn't want to make anybody angry just because my rare to show attitude got the best of me.

"Listen to me, Jade!" Dally ordered, raising his bare hands up to his shoulders.

I bit down on my bottom lip and nodded, hiding my true pain behind the mask for nobody to see. "All right...I'm listening."

Dally sternly nodded. "Well, it wasn't long before my mother met this man one night when she was servin' a few drinks at the Dingo. One thing led to another and she talked to him, slipping him her number on his bill. My father was replaced right before my eyes; my step-father is a no-good piece of shit! He doesn't love me or my kid sisters for that matter! He might've helped create Vinny and Hope, but just because they were made from half of his DNA, he didn't treat 'em like his daughters! At one moment, he would be cursing at us and turning us into live punching bags, and in the next moment, he would be treating us like we weren't even there!"

My eyes grew a little. "...You have another kid sister?"

"More like I had another one," responded Dally as he placed his hands on his hips. "Hope was just three years old when she passed away in an auto-wreck. A train rammed right into the car...and my step-dad actually abandoned the car when it got stuck on the tracks...he didn't even attempt saving her like I should've been there to do so."

Tears instantly began to pool up in the corners of my eyes. I tried repeatedly to blink them away, but the air was beginning to sting my eyes to the point where I couldn't help myself to rub them with my now balled up fists. How could a father do such a horrible thing to one of his own daughters? She was just a three-year-old toddler that never got to experience anything in life. No first kiss, no first slow dance, no dating, no marriage, no children of her own...she wouldn't even been able to be there for Dally or Vinny whenever they got married or had their own kids.

I couldn't help myself to picture the train rapidly coming down the tracks. A little girl was sitting in the backseat of her father's car, probably a truck in my imagination. In her father's mouth, a cancer stick was lit, and his heartless eyes remained on the road as the wheels of his truck kept going. The small three-year-old was fiddling around with one of her blocks, happily sucking on her thumb as she glanced around the truck from her butterfly designed booster seat. The loud whistle of the train echoed throughout the crisp air, announcing that it was getting closer. The little girl's didn't care though; he thought that they would make it. He didn't press down on the brake, but kept driving, but he was suddenly jerked forward from his truck suddenly coming from a strange stomp. The jerk was so unexpected that the little girl's block flew right out of her hand, and she began to softly cry from being scared. She couldn't get her block back either since it fell to the floor. Her father was furiously hollering many cuss words at the top of his lungs as he pressed harder down on the pedal, but his wheels wouldn't budge from where they were on the tracks. When he turned his head from hearing the train again, his eyes seemed to bulge out of his head from noticing how fast it was coming. Without another moment of hesitation, the heartless man threw off his seatbelt and leaped out from his vehicle without thinking about his daughter. When he looked back, the train rammed straight into the car with another loud whistle, but it's like in the distance you could hear the little girl crying out, "Daddy!"

My salty tears began to fall down my face. Just picturing something as horrible as that got me straight in the heart, and it didn't help when I thought about how terrible it must've been when God knows who found Mr. Winston's vehicle...and Hope's body. Blood probably covered the seats...her clothes were maybe torn...and every bone in her body must've been turned into dust. Her eyes would've been closed...actually, one would've been half opened, as if she was waiting to ask somebody why her daddy didn't save her. Her brain would've been smashed...she was lifeless...a poor little life that should've still been around today was gone.

I began to softly sniffle, and that's when Dally finally realized that I was crying. He actually did know what it was like to lose someone that he very much cared about.

Dally's eyes grew some. "...You're crying?"

"No shit, Sherlock!" I sniffled with complete sorrow. "You know, you're not the only one who lost a kid sister...I actually lost my little sister, mother, and unborn brother in a car accident, too. I'm not goin' to lie to you, so if you think that I ever had it easy in the past with me family, you're right. We might've argued here and there, but we never abandoned each other or placed a hurtful finger anywhere. However, when some members of the fuzz stopped by my place when my mom and Sara, my kid sister, went out for baby shopping...my life shattered. My old man began to drink to mask his pain, and it was as if he forgot all 'bout me. That's pretty much why I traveled here to Kansas with Zeus for winter break; I travel a lot now to get away from home."

Dally bit down on his bottom lip and hesitated. "...Why don't you sit with me and my friends? You can get the chance to meet them."

I raised an eyebrow and wiped away the rest of my tears. "Why do you want me to?"

"Never freakin' mind that! Do you want to or not?" Dally rolled his eyes.

I thought about it for a moment, but then grew a tiny grin as I shrugged and nodded. "Sure. Why not?"

Johnny's POV

Jade Thomas walked by my side on the seventh floor after we finished our breakfast. Her dog, Zeus, trotted peacefully by her side. Dally introduced each of us to her when we were eating, and I think the whole gang grew to like her right after we locked our eyes on her sweet smile and twinkling eyes. Unfortunately, I think that I was the only one who picked up Vinny's eye rolling and annoyed facial expressions after every word that Jade spoke. Being Vinny Winston, that was very natural when you first met her, considering it took time for her to grow on you. That's actually what she was like when it came to my kid sisters and I when she first laid her eyes on us. It took some time before she actually allowed us to call her a friend. Hopefully Vinny wouldn't treat Jade the way that she treated Kitten; nobody actually knew why they hated each other so much.

By the time breakfast ended, the gang was all split up. Ponyboy was motioned over by that one twin girl Jill, and he was hesitant to go until Darry told him that he was allowed only if him and Soda were able to keep their eyes on the two of them. I think Two-Bit and Kitten headed back to their rooms, and Vinny went outside to smoke a cigarette that she stole from Dally. Everybody knew how much he was trying to cut her off, but Vinny was the type of girl who was hard to stop when it came to anything. The Curtis' stayed in the feasting hall so Jill could chat about God knows what with Ponyboy, and Ashton took Utopia someplace else in the hotel. As for Faith and Mr. Roberts, I had no idea.

I didn't want to wake Jocelyn up, so I decided to just blindly walk around the seventh floor to find something to do. I guess Jade was pretty bored too, considering that she was following me.

"You're not much of a talker, aren't you?" Jade suddenly asked, breaking the silence.

"...Talking really isn't my thing," I honestly spoke in such a soft voice.

Jade raised her eyebrows. "How come?"

I hesitated to think about that for a moment. I wanted to give her a direct answer, but no matter how much I tried finding a reason to why I was the shy one in my family, I couldn't come up with anything.

"I don't know," I shrugged and jammed my fists into my pockets. "I guess talking is a certain trait for certain people."

Playfully, Jade nudged me in the arm with her elbow and chuckled. "Then I am guessing I'm one of those chatterboxes to you?"

I cocked an eyebrow at her. Why was she being so nice to me? I wasn't used to anybody being this kind unless they got to know me first. I never experienced it...but I guess that it's an okay feeling.

"Everybody seems like a chatterbox to me," I informed, "I doubt that there is anybody in the entire world who is more quiet to me. Even my kid sister talks more than me."

Jade touched her chin. "Your little sister, huh? Wasn't she that dark skinned girl with brunette hair?"

"Mm hm," I nodded and grinned a little, "that's my preteen Cassidy."

"She looks a lot like you!" Jade giggled, which made me think a lot of Soda since she seemed happy-go-lucky.

"...Yeah," I hesitantly raised my shoulders and shrugged again. "We are siblings after all. My other kid sister looks more like me if you ask me, though."

Jade's grin grew. "Wasn't she that little baby that I couldn't help to notice durin' dinner yesterday?"

Chuckling some, I nodded again. "Yep, that's her. My seven-month-old baby sister Jocelyn."

"Aw! I love babies!" Jade shared with complete love in her voice. "How come she wasn't at breakfast today?"

"Long story short," I sighed, "she had a gigantic fussy fit last night, and Dally, Cassidy, and I had a difficult time gettin' her back to sleep. So, I decided to let her sleep in for some more time. I'll get her after our little trip to...where are we goin' again?"

Jade bit down on her bottom lip and shrugged. "I don't know, I'm just followin' you. Hm...I think Mr. Roberts told me when I checked in somethin' about there being a gym on this floor. How about we go there?"

A gym? I've never been to a gym before; they were always too expensive for greasers to attend back in Tulsa. If a greaser wanted to work out, they would have to hop fences, lift full trashcans, and start fights. I usually stuck to the monkey-bars back at the park, but I honestly always wondered what a gym looked like.

"Why not? Let's go."

The rest of the walk to the gym was silent. Since Jade and I had no idea how to get there, we just kept walking around the seventh floor together until we saw the two glass doors. I don't think Jade and I were planning to work out, but we were just bored to the point where we had no idea what to do. When we made it to the clear glass doors, we instantly knew that we made it to the gym. All kinds of different exercise equipment was spread around; treadmills were lined up in a row, and different colored yoga balls were sitting in different baskets. There were some yoga matts too, along with automatic bikes spread in a different row far along the opposite side of the gym from the treadmills. Weights and scales were closest to the light green painted walls, and lastly...Jade and I noticed that there was somebody already in there.

Some pale boy with black hair and blonde highlights was breathing heavily, jogging on the treadmill in a pair of baggy black pants; and a mid-sleeved, baggy, white shirt. I think that I actually saw him cutting up and poking at his breakfast yesterday morning, but he wasn't down there today.

Jade confusedly scratched the back of her head. "Who is he? God...he's thin..."

I hesitated before shrugging. "I saw him yesterday, but I didn't catch his name or anythin' like that."

"Why wasn't he at breakfast?"

I shrugged again. "I'm not sure...but lets just talk to him and see."

Jade grinned and nodded with agreement, right before she pushed the door open and allowed me to go in first. Unfortunately, I wasn't paying attention to how Zeus' leash was in my way, and before Jade and I had any time to notice, I lost my balance and fell straight to the light wooden floor. Whoever the pale guy was, he must've noticed, because he instantly slowed his jogging down to be walk. His eyes were huge, staring at me as Jade embarrassedly turned just as red as me.

"I'm so sorry, Johnny!" Jade apologized and held her hand down, offering for me to take it.

"Hey!" The pale boy called out from the treadmill, his voice full of concern. "Are you alright?"

I quietly moaned to myself as I took Jade's hand, and she helped me back up onto my feet. That floor would really leave a mark on somebody; that's all that I could thing as I rubbed one of my ribs. I looked at Jade for a moment, causing her to embarrassedly bite down on her free hand's thumbnail. Then I gazed over at the pale boy...man, Jade was right...he was thin, and I think that he was paler than that Ashton Fisher.

"Yeah, I'm fine!" I nodded, shrugging my sore rib off like the fall never happened. So much for a golden first impression...

The boy grew a small grin, and he started the treadmill to make his jog come back. "Good," He sounded relieved, so Jade and I could tell that he was friendly. "My name is Spencer Connors. I'm here with my friend Ana for winter break."

I hid my confusion the best that I could as I stared all around the gym, trying to see if I could spot anybody else. Nonetheless, Jade, Zeus, and I were the only ones who were in the gym with this Spencer. If he was there with a friend, then where was this Ana?

Jade offered Spencer a smile. "Nice to meet you, Spencer Connors! I'm Jadelyn Thomas, but everybody calls me Jade! And this is my dog, Zeus."

Zeus then barked a single time and wagged his tail, as if he was greeting Spencer.

My shyness and concern was getting the best of me, but I forced myself to speak anyway. "And I'm Jonathan Cade, but my nickname is Johnnycake, and everyone sticks to callin' me Johnny for short."

"Well," Spencer took in a deep breath and let it out. He looked really tired, but he was still forcing himself to jog on the treadmill. "It's nice to meet you."

Jade and I exchanged our facial expressions for a couple of seconds before we gazed back at Spencer. Silence filled the gym, other than the sound of the single treadmill and Spencer's jogging footsteps. Nevertheless, after about another fifteen-to-twenty seconds, Spencer grasped another giant breath and stopped the treadmill to get his breathing back on track.

"Are you sure you should be working out, Spencer? You look...really sick," Jade said with worry glowing in her eyes, but Spencer shook his head at her.

"No, I'm fine. Trust me, I'm not sick," He assured as he snatched up a bottle of water and took down a big gulp, followed by a bunch more slurps.

I confusedly raised an eyebrow. "Then how come you weren't downstairs for breakfast? I don't think that I saw you at lunch or dinner either."

"Ah," Spencer sighed after he swallowed what was in his mouth. "I wasn't hungry...I have a very strong stomach, so I can go awhile without food."

I didn't know if it was because of Spencer being in the gym or by the way he looked, but I had a feeling that that wasn't the case. How could somebody not eat like that unless they were bein' held against their will?

"Say, Johnny Cade," Spencer suddenly addressed me, "would you mind turnin' that TV on? I think I could use some while I continue my usual morning workout."

I bit down on my bottom lip and shrugged. "Uh...sure?"

Spencer gave me a weak grin before he took another sip from his bottle of water. I then walked over to the TV that Spencer was speaking off and pressed the "ON/OFF" button. Just then, a news reporter popped up, followed the words in big red letters, "Breaking News!"

"The news channel?" Spencer rolled his eyes with boredom. "Can you turn it to somethin' more interesting, please?"

I touched my chin, suddenly getting this feeling in the pit of my stomach to keep the channel where it was. Concernedly, I narrowed my eyes. "Um...in a minute, okay, Spencer? I want to see this."

In return, all I got from him was silence, so the gym was now only full of this blonde female reporter's voice as she began to speak into her microphone. She looked extremely worried and uncomfortable, and tears were overflowing in her dark eyes that reminded me a lot of dark pieces of melting chocolate.

"This just in, the escaped mental patients struck again! Fifteen-year-old Jackie Robins, sixteen-year-old Robbie Stanford, and eighteen-year-old Kat Michael were recently found dead just last night! Jackie was found stabbed repeatedly in the library shortly after she told her parents that she was going there to study. As for Kat, her uncle found her all cut up and hanging in her bedroom closet, and lastly, Robbie was discovered at his friend, Quinn Archer's house. Quinn has been recently locked up in contempt, just in case she was somehow involved in Robbie's death. Now, each death was caused by a different type of weapon, and the police are investigating as much as possible to bring these escaped mental patients back to where they belong! Unfortunately, eleven-year-old Lucy Riley, five-month-old Nathan Rivers, six-year-old Travis Rowan, and twelve-year-old Alyssa Miles have recently went missing from their homes not long before six and seven this morning."

I could've sworn that the color instantly drained from my skin, and a startled yelp rang out from my lips.

"Did she just say..." Spencer gulped with a mixture of nervousness and uncertainty. "There are escaped mental patients on the lose? And that three different were found killed just last night? And then there's those four younger kids who were recently kidnapped?"

Jade scratched the back of her neck. "Okay, let's just calm down...I mean, we're not even sure where those escaped mental patients are."

"As for the police," The blonde female reporter went on speaking. "They are suspecting that these murderous kidnappers are mainly trying to kill just teenagers and some adults, too. As for infants, toddlers, and kids, the cops have reported that the mental patients may only be trying to use them for bait so they can lure who they're really after to them. Ever since these mental patients escaped, they've seemed to be kidnapping and killing mainly whoever is around the hotel, The County Lodge. Remember once again, ladies and gentlemen, contact the police at anytime you have the slightest clue where any of these escaped mental patients might be. We wouldn't want anymore of our viewers, younger or older to go missing or risk their lives getting taken away. I'm Molly Fryer, new reporter of Good Morning Kansas...back to you, Ryan."

My heart must've froze, because my sharp breath instantly got caught in my throat. Escaped mental patients are on the lose around The County Lodge, and they're kidnapping and even murdering people for no reason!

Cassidy's voice began to ring in my head about that shadowy figure that she's been seeing. Darry, Soda, and Ponyboy even talked this morning over breakfast about how Soda's DX cap suddenly went missing, but Tim found it in the hallway not long after he and Curly woke up to somebody knocking at their door. As for Kitten, she explained that she and Vinny got this strange phone call, and whoever it was only breathed into the phone like in one of those horror films. If all of this has happened...and we couldn't find out any exact explanation...could it possibly be because...

My eyes seemed to instantly bulge out of my head. What if all of this strange stuff was happening because those escaped mental patients were in the hotel?

Quickly, I bashed myself around and bolted away like my life depended on it.

"Johnnycake!" Jade called out for me with absolute worry and concern mixed in her voice.

"Where are you going?" Spencer then hollered, just as I forced the glass doors open.

"To my room! I need to get my baby sister!"

Without waiting another second, I dashed out of the gym, leaving Spencer, Zeus, and Jade behind. My eyes were huge, already growing watery from my fear. That news reporter said that these mental patients were murderous kidnappers, and after all of these strange things that have been happening since the gang and I made it to The County Lodge...it all seemed to fit into place. But why were these mental patients apparently targeting the gang and I? What did we ever do? It seemed as if all I could hear was the noise of my rapidly racing heart, and my legs were going as fast as they could. I don't think that I've ever ran so much before in my entire life, not even during a rumble. My baby sister was all by herself with some escaped mental patients on the lose!

When I met a different corner of the next hallway, I twisted around to the point where my shoes slid against the wooden floor. Thankfully, I stopped myself from banging into the wall, and I kept running until I finally made it back to mine, Cassidy, Dally, and Jocelyn's room. I attempted to turn the doorknob, but I just remembered that the door was locked, and Dally had the key. Nevertheless, I wasn't letting something like that get in my way on getting my baby sister and protecting her, along with Cassidy. At the thought of somebody trying to harm my Jocelyn, my eyes narrowed and began to pool up with rare anger. I tightly clenched my hands into fists as I stepped back from the door, and after waiting a few more seconds to plant my feet, I bolted forward and banged hard. My arm came in contact with the door, surprisingly slamming it hard enough for it to unlock and bam loudly into the wall. I fell and hit the floor with a loud thud, but that didn't stop me from quickly getting back up on my feet.

My eyes began to pool up with my fear and nervousness again as they locked on the crib.

"Jocelyn!" I practically called out at the top of my lungs, but when I dashed over to the wooden crib to snatch her up, it seemed like I just entered one of my worse nightmares...Jocelyn was missing.

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