Where is Rusty James at the start of Rumble Fish?

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When the story opens, Rusty James is on a beach in Southern California. By chance, he meets Steve, a friend he hasn't seen in five or six years.

Steve is surprised to see him and tells Rusty James that he is going to college in the area. Apparently, Steve is studying to become a high school teacher. As they converse, it is apparent that Steve wants to reconnect with Rusty, but Rusty isn't too keen on reminiscing about the past with his former friend.

Soon, Steve asks about the reformatory and how long Rusty was in for. Rusty answers that he was at the reformatory for five years; however, he doesn't really like to think about that period of his life. He tells Steve that he was once sent to solitary confinement, but Steve reacts awkwardly. Eventually, the two young men discuss Steve's scars and how he got them.

The conversation ends with Steve reiterating his desire to get together for dinner and to introduce Rusty to his girlfriend. Rusty humors Steve but has no intention of getting together with Steve and his girlfriend. We discover his true sentiments at the end of the book, in Chapter 12, when he maintains that:

“I waved back. I wasn’t going to see him. I wasn’t going to meet him for dinner, or anything else. I figured if I didn’t see him, I’d start forgetting again. But it’s been taking me longer than I thought it would.”

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