The original crowd, p.20
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       The Original Crowd, p.20
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         Part #0.5 of A Whole New Crowd series by Tijan

  “Trent Gardner,” I supplied.

  Sasha looked over at me in surprise. “How do you know? Were you even there?”

  “He’s a friend of mine,” I said coolly.

  “Oh!” She smiled, flashing a Cheshire smile. “I need to make a point of getting to know him. Again.”

  “Good luck,” I said dryly. “At least you knew his first name. Can’t say the same for him.”

  That wiped the grin off her face. “You’re such a bitch.”

  This was a distraction I could handle.

  I grinned back and it seemed everyone else braced themselves for what I would say next. “At least I can count the number of guys I’ve been with on one hand—with a couple of fingers left over. Can you?”

  Mandy groaned, burying her head in her hands.

  I swore I heard the rest of the group take a deep breath.

  “Are you calling me a slut?” Sasha demanded sharply.

  “You gotta expect it when you swing shit my way,” I merely retorted, curling my feet underneath me, getting more comfortable.

  Sasha rolled her eyes and—surprisingly—stayed quiet.

  Carter swore, “Fucking hell. He could’ve made that shot.” Referring to the game.

  “Fuck that,” Bryce added, taking a drink of his beer.

  Just then the buzzer rang, Spurs losing by four points. Tray switched the channel to some music videos.

  No one knew what to say, so the guys complained about the game some more.

  Jasmine stood up and went into a room. A second later, she returned with a beer in hand and perched on the arm of the couch by Devon, where she started talking to Sasha. Amber stood up and circled to stand by them. Mandy was watching Carter, glancing to Devon every now and then.

  Looking over, I saw Tray gazing at my phone.

  He looked up at me and held it out to me, “The guy’s called you like seventeen times.”

  I sighed and took the phone, standing up and moved up the stairs.

  I dialed Grayley’s number and heard him exclaim, “About fucking time, Taryn!”

  “Sorry. I just—didn’t want to deal with anything—Brian related.”

  “You did a good job on him.”

  “So you know.”

  “Yeah, I know.”

  “What do you want? I’m not sorry. Is that what you want? Brian put Geezer in the hospital.”

  “Is it helping?” Grayley asked, quietly.

  “Is what helping?” I didn’t want to play mind games with him. He always thought he knew me better than I knew myself. “Stop it, Grayley.”

  “Is it helping you? Remembering all the shit-poor stuff he does so that you can get over him?”

  “What?” I choked out in disbelief. I couldn’t believe he was playing this card. “Are you kidding me?”

  “No, Taryn, I’m not. If you want to hate Brian, you can hate him. Just don’t use Geezer as your excuse, because he doesn’t deserve to be used like that. And if you think he doesn’t know what you’re doing, you’re pretty dumb.”

  I wanted to scream. Grayley was fucking right (somewhat), but…fuck him. I wasn’t going to admit it.

  “I’m not using Geezer as an excuse. Trust me. I’m hating Brian all on my own. And what I did to him…that was all me. Yeah—Geezer was a reason, but he wasn’t the only reason. And I’m not using him.” I repeated.

  “Whatever you keep telling yourself,” he said smoothly.

  “Why are you on my ass about this?” I asked, irritated.

  “Because Geezer’s now blaming himself for the entire break-up between you and Brian. And it’s not right. He thinks it’s all his fault.”

  “Geezer went to Brian about his dad.”

  “And who sent him there? You. Through Jace.”

  “Grayley—what are you on? Are you pissed that you weren’t the one to take Brian down? I don’t get you.”

  “No. I’m pissed because you didn’t think about what you were doing. You’re not the one who’s going to pay. We are. We always are. The fight’s got nothing to do with you, you need to stay out of it. The fight’s between us and Brian. We have to deal with it.”

  “Is that why Trent was there today? You and he are going to take Brian down?”

  “Somewhat. Trent’s there because he wants to be there. He likes Geezer. Look,” I could hear how tired he was, “just stay away from Brian from now on, okay? Let us handle him.”

  “Fine,” I muttered, glowering to an empty room.

  “Taryn.”

  “I said fine.”

  “Yeah and you said that before, but look what you just did.”

  “I was pissed and he was there. I couldn’t pass it up.”

  “You tasered him, in an elevator,” Grayley pointed out wryly.

  I grinned, a chuckle escaping my lips. “Oh. You should’ve seen him.”

  “I did,” he remarked. “He was taken to the E.R.”

  “Oh.” I blinked, I didn’t think I’d done that much damage. “Why?”

  “Because you beat the shit out of him,” Grayley said, exasperated.

  “Oh. Uh—”

  “He wouldn’t file charges so the cops aren’t coming after you. But still…you’re fucking lucky, Taryn. Brian said it was in self-defense. He said that he grabbed you first and he wouldn’t tell them your name.”

  Fuck that. I was not going to be grateful to Brian. Not for anything.

  “I’ll stay out of it,” I said through gritted teeth. Grayley had gotten what he wanted. That annoying little shit.

  “Good. Get rid of that taser.”

  “Jace gave it to me.”

  “Exactly,” he pointed out, hanging up on me.

  I rolled my eyes and put my phone in my pocket.

  Mandy spoke up, from behind me, “What did you do this time?!”

  Again—fuck.

  CHAPTER EIGHT

  “I don’t—” I began, but stopped short. I didn’t know what to say to her. I’m pretty sure Hallmark doesn’t make a card for bonding over illegal activities.

  “What?” she asked again.

  I changed tactics and shifted my hip against the counter. “What are you doing up here?”

  “I came to find you.”

  “Hmm mmm. Why?”

  “I…,” Mandy wavered, rolling her eyes, “because I can’t handle all of them downstairs.”

  “Oh. You mean the little trio of Pop-Tarts downstairs?” I mocked, sweetly. “How can you not? They’re so…sugarlicious”

  Mandy chuckled, and then groaned. “Ugh. You’d think I could handle this. This was me, four years ago before Dev and I got together. But now, Jasmine’s scared to be in the same room as me, Devon looks like he’s going to bolt any second, and Amber, I’ve realized, has no spine. Plus,” she sighed, “I think they’ve replaced me with Sasha Klinnleys.”

  “I call her Hooters Bitch.”

  “I just…I feel like I’ve lost my place. You know?”

  “You’re asking me?” I asked skeptically. “Mandy, welcome to my life the past six months.”

  “What are you doing here, by the way?”

  “Hiding,” I said without hesitation. I could at least tell her part of the truth.

  “From?”

  “From my life,” I said dryly. “My friends in Pedlam. Shelley and Kevin.”

  “You mean, Mom and Dad.”

  “Yeah.I guess.”

  “Taryn…they’re your mom and dad too. You just gotta…let them.”

  “Not really used to having parents around.”

  “Well, I was grateful, but now…I’m thinking I should have had a nice dinner at home with Mom and Dad, instead of coming here.” Mandy cringed.

  Just then Amber walked into the room, a large smile plastered on her face. She halted and placed her hands on her skinny hips. “We’re going to get in the pool. You guys want to come?”

  “Um,” Mandy said uncertainly.

  “No swimsuits,” I remarked.

  “That’s
okay. Tray’s family has a bunch in the changing rooms. Just go and pick one,” she said cheerfully, before bouncing back out.

  This was not my scene—hanging out with the social elite—but it was Mandy’s and she needed my support so I pushed her forward. “Let’s go. Pick out a bikini to show off that hot bod. You’ll have both Devon and Carter drooling before the night’s over.”

  Mandy didn’t look convinced, but she went anyway.

  I knew my body and I knew what guys liked. I figured I might as well have some fun. So I picked a black bikini that tied at the sides. The folds accentuated the sweep at my breasts and I knew all the guys would take notice.

  Which they did.

  Amber, Sasha, and Jasmine were lounging at one end. Mandy was paddling with Carter in the shallow end of the pool. Tray was behind the bar. Bryce, Grant, and Devon were watching me.

  Not one to not make a scene, I walked over to Mandy and jumped, completing a clean backflip in the air, over her and Carter. I managed to sweep my arms out in front me just as I hit the water, sending a small splash over my sister.

  I kicked my way to Mandy’s side before I broke the surface, grinning at her shocked face.

  “When did you learn to do that?” Mandy asked.

  “I took swimming in the seventh grade at Earlington.”

  “They’re the state champs,” Carter remarked.

  “If you weren’t a swimmer, you were a loser there. I learned to swim.” I hauled myself out of the water and then jumped back in, laughing as Mandy scowled, knowing the splash would hit her full-force this time.

  “Looks like you kept it up,” Carter noted when I swam back over to them.

  One hand holding the side, I slicked my hair back and commented, “It was the only place I could get away from my boyfriend. I swam a lot to keep in shape.”

  “He must’ve hated that.”

  “Nah. He never knew.” It was true. Brian never knew I could swim. I’d always thought about joining the Pedlam swim team, but it didn’t seem the same. Earlington ate, breathed, and slept swimming. Pedlam, they didn’t really care. If you swam, you swam. If you didn’t, you were just like everyone else. But breaking against the water helped with arm strength. Which helped me when I had to climb—sometimes against the side of a building.

  Brian knew I didn’t spend that much time lifting his weights. But he’d never ask how I could climb as quickly as I did.

  He’d never cared to ask. That had been the bottom line.

  “Rawley has a swim team. You should try out,” Mandy suggested.

  “Maybe,” I offered. Climbing out, I crossed to the bar where Tray was talking with Grant and Bryce.

  “Drink?” Tray asked, watching me intently, almost like he was trying to read me or something. What the hell?

  “Beer.”

  He grabbed a bottle of Michelob Golden Light and uncapped it.

  The beer tasted good. I’ve never been a fruity drink girl and I’m certainly not a whiskey drinker, but beer made me think of the sun, water and friends. Which either ended with making love, some rough and passionate sex, or a fight.

  An unusual calm had been called over the group and I didn’t know handle myself. Normally, I was either having sex or fighting with these people. Okay, there was only one person here that I was doing the first with, but the second, is why I’m so uncomfortable. I wasn’t under attack and I didn’t know how to deal with these people under any other circumstance. Jasmine had retracted her claws long ago and Sasha had either given up or she was just waiting for a better place for another go.

  Normally—I was either having sex or fighting with these people. Okay, there was only one person here that I was doing the first. But the second…this is why I am uncomfortable.

  I wasn’t under attack. And I didn’t know how to handle it.

  Jasmine had retracted her claws long ago. And Sasha…either she’d given up or she was just waiting for a better place for another go.

  Remember when Stephanie was my biggest headache in this town? Jeez. And her, I’d handled by making up a lie that she hooked up with Devon. Funny how my lie turned to be half-truth. He had hooked up, just not with her.

  And Stephanie had fallen, fallen, to the point where she wasn’t even a blip on the social radar anymore.

  And Mandy? Mandy had zeroed in on her, knowing full well that I’d lied to her. But she’d done it nonetheless.

  Wow. It just hit me how much Mandy had changed with this whole Jasmine/Devon thing. She didn’t have the old spark in her anymore. But then again, seeing her grinning at whatever Carter had just whispered in her ear, I saw her glance a moment later to Devon. And I saw the hurt that flashed in her depths.

  Yeah. My sister was hurting.

  And for once, there was nothing I could do. I couldn’t go on the attack. I couldn’t blackmail anyone. I couldn’t break in somewhere and steal all their files, full of little ugly secrets. This—this I needed to sit back. And just let Mandy figure it out for herself.

  Not my ammo in life.

  “Taryn.” I came back to reality, realizing Bryce had spoken my name—and it looked like he’d done it a few times.

  “Sorry.” I grinned ruefully. “What were you saying?”

  “I was asking if you wanted to take a shot with us.” He flashed a cocky grin my way.

  What the fuck?

  “Sure.” I shrugged, turning in my place with Grant and Bryce, one on each side of me.

  Tray set out the four glasses and filled each one. One by one, we tipped our heads back and slammed the shots.

  Tray filled ‘em again.

  This night might get interesting.

  After the third—whoa—Jasmine, Amber, and Sasha had wandered over.

  Tray set out some shots for them.

  Devon was standing behind Jasmine uncertainly.

  Seeing his jaw tighten, I realized he’d been watching Mandy and Carter in the pool. When Mandy let out a shriek of laughter, Devon grabbed Jasmine by the back of her arm.

  Bryce nudged me. “We’re waiting.”

  A fourth shot sat before me. Full and waiting.

  I tipped it back and watched as Jasmine was listening to whatever Devon was whispering in her ear. I saw the smug look that came on her face and I saw that her hand reached behind him and entwined with his.

  Shit.

 
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