The original crowd, p.24
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       The Original Crowd, p.24

         Part #0.5 of A Whole New Crowd series by Tijan
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  The uneasy feeling disappeared the second I walked out and saw the sparkling Olympic-sized pool.

  I chose the second highest diving board and performed a tuck, slicing through the water and smoothly cutting through the water to do it again.

  It felt like home. God, I’d missed this.

  I didn’t notice Shelley at all. She might’ve been watching for a while, but I caught a glimpse of her later on. She was doing laps in the lanes.

  I stayed with the diving board for another good hour before I moved on to swimming laps.

  It felt right. I let myself enjoy it and pushed harder through the water.

  Pulling myself out of the pool, an hour later, I sighed happily. I had missed that, and pushing through the doors, I vowed that I’d keep at it. Who knows. Maybe I would try out for the team.

  Shelley was beaming at me the entire drive home. Pulling into the driveway, she cut the engine, but stayed put.

  “What?” I asked, resigned to whatever she had on her mind.

  “You blew me away, Taryn. I have to tell you that. You really blew me out of the water,” she giggled, “but…I just think it’s a waste of talent if you don’t try out for the team. You’ve already missed most of this year, but you could still practice with the team. Get to know them. Train with ‘em in the off-season. You could be more than ready to compete by next fall. And we could get some scouts to come and watch you.”

  “Shelley,” I said, “I…I don’t know…maybe.”

  Shelley grinned, just giddy, as we walked through the door and inside.

  I stopped, seeing Amber and Jasmine in the kitchen with Mandy. Grant and Bryce were sitting on the counters, each with a bag of chips.

  “Hey, guys,” Shelley called out, “I’ve missed seeing the old crew.”

  I beat a hasty retreat.

  Pick my battles. It’s what I had to do. Even if it meant biting my lip the entire evening—or staying locked in my room.

  Stripping out of my wet clothes, I showered, and dressed.

  I felt good, strong, as I fell onto my bed, my hand reaching for my iPod.

  A little while later I heard a soft knock at my door, and called out, “Come in.”

  Mandy poked her head around the door, a small smile on her face. “Hey.”

  I sat up and leaned against my headboard, “Hi.”

  She came in and closed the door. She sat at the end of my bed uncertainly. “Mom said you guys went swimming together.”

  “Yeah.”

  “That’s good. I mean…you could join the team.”

  “Maybe. I don’t know.”

  “Mom said you’re really good. Like, really, really good. You could get a scholarship, maybe.”

  “Yeah.”

  Could she stop beating around the bush?

  “Um…” Mandy fell silent, glancing around the room.

  “I don’t get it,” I said bluntly. “Amber treated you like shit and now you’re friends with her and Jasmine again?”

  She sighed, tucking a strand of hair behind her ear. “It’s not like that. I mean…I’ve been friends with Amber and Jaz for—forever.” She shrugged. “I have to forgive ‘em sometime.”

  “No,” I spoke, “you don’t.”

  “Taryn.”

  “Mandy, you don’t. Look, you and me, we’re cool. We have to be, we’re sisters. But Amber, Bryce, Jasmine—no. I don’t want anything to do with them. They treated my sister like shit.”

  “Bryce didn’t.”

  “No. He treated a girl that listened to you cry for hours last night like a sex toy and we both know it. He used her and discarded her—knowing full well that her best friend has a thing for him and knowing full well that she’d let him use her because she wants to be popular.” I stood up. “I think it’s disgusting.”

  “Like you’re any better,” Mandy cried, standing up. “You judge—you judge my friends.”

  “You’re right. I left my friends behind when I moved here, but I’m trying to make up for it. So give me a break with that. But I’m not like you guys with how you use people. You take advantage of them.”

  “And if they were us, they’d do exactly the same thing. They’d be taking advantage of us.”

  “It doesn’t make it right,” I clipped out. Standing firm in my belief.

  Mandy left and I heard the door click shut, the sound echoing in my head.

  Maybe life would be easier if I just avoided it.

  CHAPTER TEN

  Mandy and I had come to a stand-still. An impasse. That night, Mandy stuck around with the rest of the group. Devon had stayed away. Sasha had been called over. And I heard Tray and Carter’s voice downstairs at one point.

  I stayed upstairs the entire time.

  Shelley had knocked on my door, asking if I wanted any supper, but I declined.

  Instead, I’d finished my homework for Monday, Tuesday, and started a paper that was due at the end of the term.

  See. Avoiding people does have some benefits.

  I’d heard Shelley and Kevin say their goodnights and a moment later, Shelley poked her head back through. “Hey, wanted to say goodnight. And don’t forget to just ask the coach tomorrow. It doesn’t hurt. If anything you might make some friends you can train with.”

  I nodded and said goodnight back. Kevin waved over Shelley’s shoulder before they both moved on.

  About an hour later, I heard another knock before the door swung open and Tray slipped through.

  I didn’t say anything. Neither did he. But I did move over as he crawled onto the bed, lying beside me.

  We stared at each other for a moment. Tray lifted a hand and tucked a strand of hair behind my ear, his fingers smoothed out the rest of my hair before sliding down to my arm, then down to my waist.

  I closed my eyes and leaned forward, finding his lips with mine. I felt myself melting into him. He traced my lips with his, then swept inside. I moved my arm around him, and twisted one of my legs around his, pulling him tighter against me. He caressed my leg, keeping it locked around him.

  I sighed, moving back as Tray rose above me.

  Hearing my phone ring, I groaned, my mouth still fused with his.

  “Leave it,” he murmured, trailing kisses down the side of my face to my neck. Then farther down, bringing a grin to my face.

  Dazed, I numbly grabbed for my phone and raised it to my eyes. I saw a number I didn’t recognize. “What the…” I mumbled.

  Tray reached for my phone and stuck it inside a drawer in my nightstand as his lips met mine again, more insistent this time.

  I complied and wrapped my arms around his neck as he pressed me back into the pillows.

  Breathing hard, awhile later, Tray called a halt to our make-out session, sitting up in bed. Staring at me, he said hoarsely, “If we don’t stop now, we won’t be stopping for the rest of the night.”

  “I know.” I sighed. Everyone was still downstairs, not that that would’ve put a damper on us, but…the parents, not to mention Austin. He was a smart eighth grader, but he was still an eighth grader. He might think he knows shit, but I’d rather him not learn it from me.

  Tray ran a hand through his hair, regarding me wryly.

  I chuckled and gasped, feeling him suddenly lift me in the air and settle me against his chest, with him resting against my headboard. He placed me before him, one hand against my stomach.

  “This is new,” I murmured.

  I felt Tray grin into my hair, his face resting against mine. “Yeah. I’m not after sex all the time. Just most the time.”

  I grinned. “I am.”

  He chuckled softly. “You also like to hide in my bed.”

  “The activities make it tempting. It’s Pavlonian.”

  “You’re telling me.”

  Hearing a beeping sound, I remembered my phone and pulled it out. Checking my missed calls, I saw Kerri’s name flash across the screen. She hadn’t left a message though, so I put it back.

  “Not someone you want to t
alk to,” Tray noted.

  “More like…just confused as to why she’s calling. We’re not really close.”

  “She’s one of your friends from Pedlam.”

  “Yeah. Somewhat.”

  “You and Mandy are fighting.”

  I grinned. “And see I was thinking you were coming up to get some quick and easy action. But now…now I know the real reason you came up here. Mandy sent you, didn’t she?”

  “Guilty. Except she didn’t. Believe it or not, I came up for some quick and easy action.”

  “Mmmm. I always fall for the romantic guys,” I mocked with a dreamy look. “They just get me right here.” I patted my chest.

  “Your breasts.”

  “My heart, you ass.”

  Tray chuckled, tightening his arms around me. “Actually, I came up because it was either this or listening to Amber, Jasmine, and Mandy rehash the latest SNL skit that made fun of Paris Hilton.”

  “I’m touched. You chose me.”

  “Well, I’d like to think we’ve started a tradition over the past few nights. It’d be heartless of me not to keep that tradition going.”

  “And what is that?”

  “Me and you. In bed.”

  I laughed at that one.

  “Except tonight,” I pointed out. “We will not be progressing as we have in the past.”

  “Such fond memories.” He sighed, resting his cheek against my head.

  “I feel like it happened just yesterday. Imagine that,” I scoffed, laughing.

  Suddenly we heard a knock at my door, followed by Carter’s voice, “Dude. You dressed?”

  “Oh my—get in here,” I called out. “I don’t need my parents thinking we wouldn’t be dressed in here.”

  “Sorry.” Carter grinned, shrugging as he closed the door behind him. “I figured I’d take my chances on you guys.”

  “They’re still talking about Paris Hilton?” Tray asked, running a hand down my knee, which was resting over his.

  “Nah, dude, now they’re talking about that witch show. Charmed or something.”

  I grinned. “Carter, I bet you a mil that if I were to look in your computer, you’d have every episode on iTunes.”

  “Would not,” he scoffed uncomfortably.

  “Should we go?” Tray saved him, glancing at the clock on my nightstand. “It’s midnight.”

  “Yeah, sure.” Carter stood up gratefully. Tray paused, once, to meet my eyes before he left, pulling the door shut behind him. A few minutes later I heard them leave through the front-door and climb into Tray’s SUV.

  I recognized the sound of its engine.

  *

  Monday dawned bright and early. Mandy, as usual, had left for school long before I’d even stepped foot in the kitchen. She was an early bird, and me, I’d like to aspire to be one of them. Someday.

  But today I got the joyous opportunity of dropping Austin off at his school. Mom and Dad didn’t approve of his little buddies, so I got stuck with a pissed off eighth grader. My ‘have a good day’ was met with a middle finger.

  That made my day.

  Parking in my usual spot, I realized school had a different light to it. For some reason, I felt more…comfortable. Don’t ask me why.

  Larkins met me on the lawn, as usual.

  “Hey, Ice Bitch.”

  There was my God-given name.

  “Hey, Larkins. You get some action Friday night?” I teased, but was met with a flush. I raised my eyebrows. “You did, didn’t you?”

  He shrugged, shoving his hands in his front pockets. “Yeah, well, we had fun. It was a fun party.”

  “You called her the next day, right?” I asked, watching him intently.

  “Huh?” Larkins asked, confused.

  “You got action, you should’ve called her.”

  “I wouldn’t call you.”

  “I’m not Molly Keeley,” I pointed out. “You have to treat her differently than you would me. Or girls like me.”

  “I didn’t call her.” He paled.

  Well. What’d I expect?

  “I’ll take care of it,” I assured him. “You do want me to take care of it, right?”

  “Yeah. Yeah. That would be awesome,” he insisted gratefully.

  I saw his hackey-sack buddies waiting in the background. “Your buds look impatient.”

  “Oh,” he murmured, nodding again. “Thanks, Ice Bitch. Thanks.”

  “Larkins.”

  “Yeah?” He turned back.

  “The name’s Taryn. Anyone else call me what you do would be in the hospital by now,” I murmured, bypassing him into school.

  When I entered the school, there were no homecoming signs to greet me. There was a God.

  But—hell—I just saw a poster for state championships plastered on the wall. It was decorated with little footballs, pompoms, and each jersey number of the players.

  That’s right. They won Friday night. That meant—off to play-offs we go.

  Whatever. I weaved my way through a crowd of sophomore gawkers. They were, I hate to admit that I even noticed this, staring at Bryce and Grant. Who were in turn, staring at Jasmine and Mandy.

  Remember the day when I broke into school and fucked with the alarm system? All to distract my sister from school gossip?

  I was a moron.

  I opened my locker and reached for my first period textbook when I felt someone beside me.

  It was Molly. With brand new microscope glasses.

  “Hey. I like the pink,” I noted.

  “Tray Evans had a party Saturday night and you Did. Not. Call. Me.”

  Guess she didn’t like the pink frames.

  “Sorry,” I said lamely.

  “Or was Friday night you’re one charitable moment?” she continued sarcastically.

  “Hey, sorry. I had things on my mind,” I said softly, moving towards my class.

 
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