The Original Crowd, p.23Part #0.5 of A Whole New Crowd series by Tijan
of you anymore. It’s okay to not be okay with that. She won’t replace you. No matter what. She can’t go back to those four years and take your place. Those four years were yours.”
God. That’s what I’d been doing. I was so focused on moving forward, cutting all my ties—I’d just now started mending those with Grayley and Geezer again. But…a part of my identity had been with Brian.
And I’d been floundering because I hadn’t even realized it. That a part of me was missing. Or that I needed to figure out who I was again.
I realized my hands were fisting the bedcovers. I was trying to restrain myself to stay there. But every instinct I had in me was screaming for me to get the hell out of there. Just—run and hide.
Yeah. I confronted. I confronted when it was a battle that had to be done. But this stuff—this feeling stuff—I always ran the opposite way.
So I was forcefully keeping myself there. Anyway I could.
Mandy needed me. She, at least, needed my presence there.
So I stayed.
And I felt my insides tearing as I listened to Mandy’s suffering.
I was still really uncomfortable, but I hung in there. Mandy had cried—sobbed really—for most of the night. Honey had stayed with her. I’d laid back on the bed, content to say a few words every now and then. But Honey had done most of the heavy-lifting. Bit had even been granted access. At one point she helped Honey out and—of course—Mandy had cried even harder.
I probably aged a good twenty years because of it. But I stayed.
“What time is it?” Mandy asked, hoarsely.
“It’s, like, four in the morning,” Bit replied, sighing happily.
“Four in the morning?” Mandy gasped, sitting up. “I can’t believe it’s that late.”
“Just tell Mom and Dad what you always tell ‘em.” I suggested tiredly. Mandy usually told ‘em she’d crash at a girlfriend’s. She didn’t want them to be worried about her driving late at night. It always worked.
“Well, I know…and I already did. But still—we spent almost the entire party in here.”
“Tray had three kegs. And I’m pretty sure they were carrying in a fourth one when I came up here,” I murmured, yawning.
It was the best timing because we heard a knock at the door. A second later, Amber stuck her head in. “Hey.” She grinned, cautiously, at Mandy. Her eyes skimmed over Honey, Bit, and myself, but they lingered on Mandy. “Can I come in?”
Mandy took a deep breath and nodded. Soothing her hair back, she said, “Thanks, guys. I’ll be…I’ll be okay.”
I studied Amber intently, trying to figure out if she had intent to harm or foul.
Mandy sighed. “Taryn, leave her alone.”
So I did and followed behind Honey and Bit outside the door.
They were sharing a look when I closed the door behind me.
“What?” I asked.
“Nothing,” Bit spit out, sounding irritated.
“It’s just…this is how it always is.”
“What do you mean?” Seriously. I was clueless.
“They always get into a fight and one of them spends the entire party crying, locked in a room. We pick up the pieces—”
“Lori,” Honey interrupted hastily, looking at me uncomfortably.
“No,” Bit—Lori—cried out. “It’s so unfair. And then one of them shows up, after the party’s almost over, and tomorrow it’ll be like nothing ever happened. They’ll all be giddy and—”
Ah. Now I got it. These two girls were nice, but the problem is that they were too nice. They were social-climbers, just like Stephanie’s wannabes
I could, kind of, sympathize. Bit liked Bryce. I knew that, I could tell from the card game. And Honey—she was just nice and almost—too wholesome. These girls didn’t have enough bitch in them to climb that last rung on the ladder.
So they were nice to whichever ‘it’ girl was down and out. They were kind of—like Band-Aids. They were there to cover the wound, but the ‘it’ girl needed to show up to make things really alright. These two didn’t cut it, because…they weren’t one of the social elite.
I was pissed off at myself because I was feeling sympathy for these two—because they couldn’t get popular.
How trivial and annoying is that.
So, I said flatly, “Try being mean.”
“What?” Bit asked, confused. I’d checked out of their conversation a few seconds ago.
I shrugged, moving down the hallway. “You’re too nice. Be mean.”
I caught sight of Tray outside. He was sitting at the table with the rest. Trent was there with Sasha on his lap—still. I think the girl had to have a new lap to sit on whenever she sat down. She was probably worried her own would get bruised or flattened.
I know it’s irrational, but I didn’t like her. I could think whatever I wanted.
Jasmine and Devon had left. Thank God.
I caught Tray’s eyes for a second. His were unreadable, but I veered to his pool-house where I curled up in his bed, slipping underneath the covers. A second later I was asleep.
I woke up later and checked the time. It was ten in the morning. I had a good six hours of sleep. Rolling over, I saw Tray asleep beside me, his head was turned my way and he had one hand on my leg.
How had I not noticed that?
I tried to get up without waking him to no avail. Tray’s eyes opened to small slits when he saw me moving across him.
He grabbed me and pulled me on top of him. “Hey.” He nuzzled my neck.
“Hi,” I whispered, inhaling his scent. The guy smelled good, even after a night of drinking. How screwed up is that?
“Where are you going?”
“Shower, breakfast, and then home.” I listed my destinations off.
“Okay.” He yawned, letting me go.
He flipped onto his stomach when I came back from the shower.
I finished dressing and saw in surprise that Tray had already slipped on a shirt without me knowing.
“Where are you going?” I asked, startled.
“Breakfast. With you,” he stated, grabbing a pair of pants.
“Oh.” I stood uncertainly as I waited for him to finish. I led the way outside, sighing when I saw a few people sleeping off their drunk on the patio loungers. Inside, they were spread out in the hallways and I caught a glimpse of more in one of the living rooms. The kitchen was already being invaded.
Mandy, Amber, Bryce, and Grant were finishing off a box of doughnuts. Honey was awake, sitting at the table. Alone.
Mandy giggled, trying to hide her doughnut behind her hand.
Amber giggled at that and then they both dissolved into laughter.
Honey and Bit had been right.
“Hey, dude,” Grant called out, shoving the box our way. “Carter went for treats.”
Tray leaned forward to inspect what was left and I bypassed them to sit down beside Honey.
“Hey,” I greeted easily, biting back a yawn.
“Hi,” she said gratefully.
“Where’d you sleep last night?”
She shrugged, looking away. But I caught the brief glance she’d sent over my shoulder. Following it, I saw that it landed on Bryce, who was currently devouring his second doughnut, grinning at Tray’s curse that they’d taken all the good ones.
Bit liked Bryce.
I wasn’t stupid. She had a guilt-ridden, one-night-stand look. It seems like Honey had hooked up with Bryce after I’d left.
Honey flushed, crossing her arms over her chest. “She went home last night.”
“Right,” I said dryly.
Whatever. I was going to push straight through. I leaned forward and asked directly, “She know about you and Bryce?”
Honey paled at my words, seemingly shrin
“You should come clean. Tell her why you did what you did,” I said shortly. “Because next time you’re at a party, Bryce is gonna remember that you were the girl he hooked up with once. He’ll come sniffing around again and he’s not going to care who’s around or who’s going to hear him. Bit’s gonna care and you’ll be down one friend.”
“What are you…why…?” she faltered, taken aback.
“Look, I’m just trying to save you from a lot of extra drama. If you come clean, Bit will understand. Unlike Mandy, I don’t have a case of selective amnesia with whoever’s higher in the popularity status…you guys were both there for my sister. That means something to me and I’d hate to have you guys get sucked up in this kind of drama. You guys seem solid as friends. That’s a good thing. You need friends—good friends.”
“Hey, Taryn,” Bryce greeted, plopping down in the chair next to mine, throwing an arm around my shoulder. “Where oh where did you disappear to last night?”
“You’re an asshole,” I said simply, shrugging his arm off.
“What?” he sputtered, more startled than insulted.
“You’re an asshole,” I said again, pissed. “Do you not even know that you might end a best friendship? Or did you know and you just don’t give a damn?”
“Excuse me?” he huffed, now starting to get pissed. “What the hell are you—?”
“You’re trying to get a piece of me last night. That didn’t work. You knew this other girl at the game liked you. So what do you do? You hook up with her best friend. All because you think you have some God-given right.”
“Hey, it’s not on me what she did or if her friend likes me—” he started to argue.
I stood up and said simply, “Yes, it is. It’s called being responsible and just being a decent human being.”
Sasha and Trent chose that moment to walk into the kitchen. Sasha took one look at us and immediately glared.
Trent took one look and left, heading the opposite way.
I grabbed my purse and left behind him. “Trent,” I called out, hurrying to catch up with him.
“Taryn, you deserve half the shit that’s thrown your way. You know that, right?” he mused, waiting for me.
“How do you figure?” I grinned.
“You could choose better battles, you know.”
“I know. I just…get so mad.”
“And that’s what usually ends you in deeper shit than you can tread,” Trent noted.
“Yeah, but I don’t care.”
“Yeah, but you care about a few of them.” He stopped, staring at me. “And that’s why you should pick your battles. All your words, they get washed over them, you know. Don’t get me wrong, way I got it, that Evans guy can handle anything you send his way. But your sister, she’s just another one of those kids that you claim you hate.”
“Alright. Fine. Picking better battles, check,” I said cockily, tilting my head. “You going to see Geezer today?”
We’d reached his truck and he opened the door. Climbing in, he murmured, “Maybe. I don’t know.”
“I was thinking of coming out.”
“I think you should stay put,” Trent said bluntly.
“Because you’re at the end of Grayley’s rope. Just give him space.” Then he started the engine, shut his door, and roared off down the road.
Not many people could leave me standing speechless with my mouth hanging open.
Trent had that effect.
So did Grayley.
Probably why I considered them friends.
The rest of the day passed without event, thank God. Shelley and Kevin had both politely asked how my friend from Pedlam was doing. I filled them in, for the most part.
Mandy returned home later that afternoon. She showered, changed clothes, grabbed her book bag, and had headed back out.
I had been laying on my bed, listening to my iPod. During a break between songs I heard Amber’s voice outside the window. Rolling over, I saw Amber was outside in her car. Bryce and Grant were also with them.
Then Mandy walked down the hallway and was outside in a second. I heard her call out, “See you later, Mom. I’ll call later, but I’ll probably be out for dinner.”
Figures. Mandy was tight with Amber again. She’d want to make sure it stayed that way.
I rolled back over onto my back and thumbed the volume up.
After a little while, I’d gotten up, checked my email, and finished up my homework. Now I was bored—which is sad.
Spying my swimsuit, remembering the feeling of swimming yesterday, I grabbed a bag and packed it. Slipping on some flip-flops, I called out, “I’m going swimming.”
“What was that, honey?” Shelley came out, smiling warmly.
“I’m going to go for a swim. I think the school has a pool I can use.”
“Oh yes! That’d be wonderful. Hold on, let me grab my own suit. I’ll come with you.”
My new mother was coming swimming with me. Not my idea of me time.
Emerging from the hallway, she had a bright smile on, and called out cheerfully, “Okay, honey. Let’s go.”
Shelley drove and I sat in silence. I didn’t know what to say, so I didn’t say anything. The nice thing was that she knew where the pool was, where to park, and which doors to take.
Turning the car off, Shelley explained, “I used to be a swimmer. So any excuse I have to slip on the old suit, I’m happy for!”
“When’d you learn how to swim, Taryn?” she asked.
“When I went to Earlington.”
“Oh, that’s right,” Shelley exclaimed, “you were on the swim team, weren’t you? I remember reading that in your file. I was so excited. I thought for sure you’d try out here, but I didn’t want to push you.”
“You were on the varsity team, weren’t you?”
“No,” I said hastily, “I was on J.V. I didn’t make it to varsity.”
“Still,” she said proudly, “you were in the seventh grade. That’s quite an accomplishment. Especially for Earlington. They’ve been the state championships for the past twenty two years. They have an excellent program. I’m sure you’d have no problem making varsity now. Taryn, you could maybe even get a scholarship for school.”
Okay. Too fast.
“Uh…I don’t know.”
“Okay,” Shelley was back-pedaling, “whatever makes you happy, Taryn.” She put her hand on my arm. “But I must tell you, I’m extremely excited that we’ve found this bond between us.”
The Original Crowd by Tijan / Romance & Love have rating 4.1 out of 5 / Based on45 votes