The original crowd, p.18
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       The Original Crowd, p.18

         Part #0.5 of A Whole New Crowd series by Tijan
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  “Good. Good. I’ll see you then, Tartar.”

  I hung up and relaxed in my seat, hearing Tray on his own phone.

  “Hey,” he spoke monosyllabic. From the other end, I could hear someone talking. “Yeah. Meet me at the diner in about twenty.”

  Seeing Carter’s house come into view, I was amazed again. The place was just not meant for one person should live in. Seriously. A movie star would buy a place like that.

  “Carter’s parents live in Europe. A lot of it’s just guilt,” Tray murmured. He must’ve read my thoughts.

  “And yours?”

  “My parents live in South America.” He flashed a grin, pulling beside my parked car. Mine wasn’t the only one there. There were at least a good dozen cars, scattered up and down the road.

  Must’ve been one hell of a party.

  I unclipped my seat belt and opened the door.

  “Hey,” Tray called out.

  Pausing in the door, I looked back at him and waited for him quietly. .

  “Call me tonight. If you want to, I don’t know, come over and watch a movie or something.” He rolled his eyes.

  “Thought we were just messing around.”

  “Precisely.” Tray grinned, one might classify that grin as wicked, but not me. That was just him. There was a little bit danger mixed in with him. It was there. I’d gotten glimpses of it, just little flashes though—but I saw it again. And it made me wonder, as I closed the door and climbed into my car, when I’d see the full face of what was just simmering underneath his façade.

  But I didn’t dwell on it too much. As soon I pulled up outside my home, I breathed a quick sigh of relief—the parents weren’t home yet. Hurrying, I swept inside and up to my room where I grabbed my robe before heading into the bathroom. I could hear Mandy in her room, probably on the phone because she was talking to someone, and Austin was probably hibernating in his room—anywhere to keep away from us.

  After showering and changing clothes, I wandered down into the kitchen, now more relaxed. Austin was poking around in the fridge, his lanky form wearing basketball shorts and a Rawley jersey.

  “Hey, kid,” I spoke up, reaching around him and grabbing a yogurt.

  He raked his eyes over my form. “Showering doesn’t hide your recent lay.”

  “Excuse me?” I muttered, startled. The kid was in eighth grade.

  “Mom and Dad are going to know.”

  “Hey,” I shot my leg out and blocked his exit from the kitchen, “what the hell’s your problem?”

  “Nothing. I’m just telling you—you look like you got laid last night and showering isn’t going to hide it.”

  I tipped my head to the side, eyes speculative, “You get laid last night?”

  He snorted, “I’m fourteen. Mom and Dad would skin me alive.”

  Whatever. I asked instead, “So what’s her name?”

  Austin shoved my leg off the counter and walked out of the room with a plate of pizza. A second later I heard the TV blaring.

  I shook my head. The fourteen year old had an attitude. Looked like we were a match made in heaven. I’d need to pay more attention to him.

  “When did you leave last night?” Mandy asked, coming down the stairs.

  “When you and Carter decided to start a make-out session at the table.”

  “Everyone saw you and Tray leave together. Seriously. It was so sweet—Jasmine and Devon showed up with Grant at the party. Jaz still has it for Tray and I guess they showed up just when you guys were taking off. I seriously loved it! It’s the perfect revenge.” she chatted happily, grabbing a Pop-Tart.

  “Except it has nothing to do with you, Jasmine, or Devon,” I remarked, jumping on top the counter, swinging my legs, watching Mandy rush back and forth in the kitchen. “What are you doing?”

  “Trying to make some food for when Mom and Dad get home. They should be here any minute.” She expelled a deep breath.

  Huh. I’m fine with what I had to eat.

  “So you and Carter,” I mused.

  She shrugged and, if possible started to busy herself even more. She remarked, “I don’t know. We just…I guess so.”

  “You were all for it before. Carter specifically asked me to come to his party, remember? And he stayed the night.”

  “Nothing happened.”

  “Something did. You progressed,” I pointed out.

  “Yeah…”

  I narrowed my eyes, studying her. Something had happened. Something…oh shit. I announced, “You talked to Devon last night.”

  Mandy jumped, spilling the milk.

  “You did. And you’re thinking of taking him back,” I pressed on, my eyes wide in shock.

  “I did not. I mean…maybe…I don’t know.”

  “When’d you talk to him? After your make-out session with Carter and before the two of you had sex?”

  “We didn’t…well…shut up about it, alright?” she snapped.

  My sister. All blonde. Cheerleader. On student council. And flustered right now. I loved her.

  “Mandy. It’s fine if you did. You guys were together for like, four years.”

  “What?” She whirled to me. “Oh. You mean me and Devon.”

  “So that’s it.” Understanding was now dawning. “You had sex with Carter last night and now you’re feeling guilty about it because of Devon.”

  “Shut up,” she hissed.

  “It’s not like you have to call Devon, begging for forgiveness—”Catching that her hands froze at my words, I swore, “Holy crap, you did, didn’t you? Mandy!”

  “What?” she exclaimed, and I saw the despair in her eyes. “It’s not like…I still love him, you know? Me and Dev. We were together for four years. Four years, Taryn. I can’t just…wash that out of my system.”

  I cringed at every word; it was like a dagger stabbing me with each word. I could relate. Trust me. I gritted my teeth and slammed a steel wall on the emotions that were boiling inside me.

  Tuning back in, Mandy was still talking, I heard her say, “And Carter…he’s…I used to have such a crush on him, but he was dating Sabrina Lyles…and what Devon did.”

  “Devon cheated on you,” I said flatly. “For an entire year. He fucked around behind your back, with your best friend. He’s not a guy you want with you.”

  Mandy went pale at my words and I didn’t care.

  I pressed harshly, “He’ll do it again because he’s weak, Mandy. You need a guy that’s going to put you first and not let some little tramp seduce him—over and over and over again. He went behind your back for over a fucking year. And I bet it wasn’t Jasmine doing the seducing, I’d bet you a million bucks Devon was the one doing most of the calling.”

  “Shut the fuck up!” Austin cried out behind me. He’d heard every word and had probably been listening the entire time. “Just because you stayed with some loser, doesn’t mean Mandy’s like you.”

  “No, she’s not. But she’s about to make the same mistake I did.” Brian hadn’t continued to cheat on me, but those two times—they’d been enough to rip my heart out.

  I’d had enough of this conversation. Hopping off the counter, I said, “I’m going to visit a friend in the hospital. Tell your parents I’ll be home tonight.”

  Mandy and Austin both froze, registering my words, before I swept out the door.

  It wasn’t until I was in my car that I cursed, realizing what I’d just said, Tell your parents I’ll be home tonight.

  *

  I hated hospitals. I’d always hated hospitals. I’d been coming to them my entire life. It always seemed someone was in an accident, someone had tried to kill themselves, or now—someone had been beaten close to death. I know Geezer wasn’t dying, but he could have. I watched Brian put a few people in the hospital over the years, and they’d stayed a lot longer than just for observation. One of them had been in a coma for a few days.

  Brian had spent that time in jail, followed by a short stint in prison.

  And I staye
d with him. I had been terrified, yes, but…he was all I had. He’d been there, through thick and thin with me. But now—some of that love was starting to give way to my right, my fury.

  The son of a bitch had twisted so much from me over the years. He’d convinced me that only he cared and I believed him. I still do in some way.

  I don’t care what Grayley said. I knew, deep down, it had to be me who’d put Brian in his place. Only I could. I just had to figure a way around my promise to him—somehow.

  But not today. Today was for Geezer.

  I absent-mindedly wiped away a tear as it slipped down my cheek as I parked and walked down the parking ramp, towards the hospital.

  Checking in at the front desk, I pinned my visitor’s pass to my shirt and took the stairs.

  Again. I’d been here many times and knew my way around.

  I could hear voices in the room as I slowed down, approaching it.

  The door was open so I knocked with the back of my hand, pausing in the doorway.

  Geezer’s face lit up in a smile—or it would’ve—if the bruises had allowed it.

  God.

  “Tartar!” he said, his voice still weak.

  “Hey.” I forced a smile, moving to his side. Bending down, I kissed his cheek. “The other guy better be in the morgue,” I teased.

  Geezer looked at me gratefully.

  Noticing who was in the room, I blinked, seeing a lot of our old crew. Kerri, I frowned, seeing her own bruises. Liza, her waif-life figure swamped in a Cowboys sweater. Grayley was there, he’d hopped up on the windowsill, making room for me. I sent him a small smile. He winked back at me in understanding. And, to my surprise, I saw Trent Gardner, tipping back in his chair, one hand on Geezer’s bedrail.

  “Hey,” I said, sweeping my eyes over them all.

  Kerri greeted warmly, “About time you got here.”

  And that was it—I’d been welcomed back.

  “Hey, chick,” Trent drawled, “about fucking time you showed your face around these parts.”

  I grinned, sitting in Grayley’s vacated seat. “Shut up,” I retorted back playfully.

  Trent rolled his eyes and launched back into his story, apparently about a party last night where he’d tapped some form of ass. Hearing a familiar name, I interrupted, “What party were you at last night?”

  Trent looked at Grayley. “What party, dude?”

  “Same party as you, Taryn. That one guy’s. No idea what his name is,” Grayley informed me.

  “Who’d you tap?” I asked Trent.

  “I dunno. I think her name was…fuck, I don’t know.”

  “Sasha.” Grayley helped out. “Looked like a Hooters girl.”

  I groaned, “You fucked Sasha Klinnleys? From my new school?”

  “What of her?” Trent asked. Of course Trent would ask that. He didn’t give a shit that I knew her or wasn’t happy that he’d screwed her. No. This was Trent. He was unmoving, laidback in the face of death, antagonistically cool—Trent.

  I didn’t know how to describe Trent. He’d always been around in our circle, but he could be placed in a lot of other groups. He and Liza had been an item for a little bit, but that’d ended when she slept with Brian. Trent was probably the only guy in Pedlam who could tell Crispin Gentley to fuck off and then just walk away—unharmed. I didn’t know how Trent did it, but he did. Every damn time. He was just…nonplussed. Down to the bone. He’d hang out with the popular kids one week. The potheads the next. The Goths the following weeks. And even the preppies liked him.

  But he’d taken a liking to Geezer. I’d forgotten that. Since he was here with Geezer, that meant he’d taken a stand against Brian. Guess Brian had violated some code or something otherwise Trent would’ve shown up at the house or something. Or just asked Grayley how the Geeze was doing, if he was still limping and smoking. Something like that. Not be in the hospital. With his ex and all of Geezer’s friends.

  “Nothing. I don’t like her.” I rolled my eyes.

  Liza laughed. “Like I’m surprised that you wouldn’t like someone.”

  “What’s that supposed to mean?”

  “You’re not the easiest person to get along with,” she said shrugging.

  “Leave Taryn alone,” Kerri spoke up. “She’s got a lot of stuff going on—like her new family. How is your new family going?”

  “It’s alright. Got a cool sister and brother. I just realized today that my new fourteen year old brother has an attitude like mine.”

  “Sounds perfect. You dealing with a mini version of you.” Kerri sighed.

  I looked at Geezer and saw he was just watching all of us. I could tell he was happy from the sparkle in his eyes. It was nice seeing a sober Geezer looking back at me. Too bad I knew he wouldn’t say that way for long. He’d be back smoking as soon as he got in the car of whoever picked him up.

  Grayley must’ve recognized my look because he coughed and spoke up, “Geeze’s sleepy. Let’s head out.”

  “No…” Geezer argued weakly. “Stay.”

  “Nope,” Grayley said firmly. “Let’s head out. We’ll be back in a while so you can get some sleep.”

  No one said a word when they saw I stayed in place. That’s probably why Grayley made the comment, so I could talk to Geezer alone. As soon as the door was pulled shut behind them, I grabbed Geezer’s hand and whispered, “I am so, so sorry.”

  Geezer shook his head quickly. “No,” he choked out hoarsely.

  “I promised Grayley I wouldn’t do anything to Brian, but…he can’t get away with this.”

  “He won’t,” Geezer murmured. “Grayley’s freezing him out. He and Trent.”

  “What do you mean?”

  “No one. No one will talk to him.” Geezer coughed.

  “Oh God. I’m sorry. I’ll talk to Grayley. Don’t worry about it.” I smiled softly, brushing his hair behind his ears. “You rest and heal, okay.”

  Geezer squeezed my hand tightly. I saw the tears at his eyes and bent to kiss his forehead again. Resting my cheek against his forehead, I whispered, “Just get better. Heal.”

  Geezer knew I wasn’t talking about just physical healing. I meant it in every other way possible. I was tired of seeing my best friend high 24/7. I was tired of not having him around me anymore. He needed to grow up with me, not stay the same age.

  I curled up in the lounger beside his chair and closed my eyes. Pulling my knees against my chest, I wrapped my arms around them and promptly fell asleep, Geezer snoring right beside me.

  *

  Grayley woke me up an hour later. The nurse needed to do her checks and they needed privacy for Geezer. Whispering goodbye to Geezer, I pressed a kiss to his forehead again and moved out the door.

  Grayley was waiting for me in the hallway.

  “Hey.”

  “Hey.” He gave me a half-grin back, leaning against the wall, his hands stuffed in his pockets.

  “He’s…um…”

  Grayley shrugged.

  I left it alone. I didn’t have the energy right now anyway.

  “I took off before my parents got home. They’re probably pissed at me.” I sighed.

  Grayley nodded.

  “Gardner, huh,” I murmured, finding myself staying in place instead. The door wasn’t coming to me.

  He nodded again.

  “Geezer said you guys are freezing Brian out.”

 
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