The original crowd, p.26
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       The Original Crowd, p.26

         Part #0.5 of A Whole New Crowd series by Tijan
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  hypocritical you are? You’ve got serious history with the biggest drug-runner in Pedlam. You used to date a guy that roughed up a girl.”

  “I was pissed. I spoke up. What do you want from me?”

  “I don’t know. A clarification. Who you’re condemning? Who you’re not,” he said sarcastically. “You’re sleeping with me and I run steroids, not to mention—the town doesn’t let the Lansers do business here.”

  I sighed, turning away to rest my head against the wall. I didn’t know what to say. I’d opened a can of worms, but—hell—I wasn’t one to sit back and let stuff slide by. Not if I was pissed enough and could stop it. Or, to be more accurate, if I even wanted to stop it. Tray was right, I let a lot of stuff by because I didn’t care about it. But this time, I’d cared. So I’d opened my mouth.

  “How do you do that?” I asked, quietly. “Jace told me…he told me to watch out for you.”

  “Great. That coming from a drug lord.” Tray snorted, rolling his eyes.

  “He’s not a drug lord.”

  “No, he’s a drug dealer. A lot more prestigious,” he said sarcastically.

  “Jace is—”

  “Jace is someone you should stay away from. He might care about you, but he’s not going to change. And one day he’s going to end up in prison or dead.”

  That was enough. “And how do you know so goddamn much?” I cried out, frustrated. The guy was insufferable.

  “I know. Trust me.”

  “But how? I don’t understand—it’s like you’re—one of them.”

  “I am,” he remarked.

  “You run steroids, but you won’t let the drug-runners in town. I don’t get it—how can you keep drugs out of Rawley?”

  “It’s not that.” He sighed, raking a hand through his hair. “I just don’t let Jace Lanser come in here.”

  “But how?” I asked dumbly.

  “My dad used to be the chief of police here and my older brother’s with the DEA. I know both sides, trust me. I know where to step and where not to step.” Tray relented, sitting on a roll of wrestling mats against the wall. Bracing his elbows on his knees, he said further, “That’s why I won’t let Jace Lanser come into Rawley and it’s why he stays away.”

  “Jace said something…that you run the interstate intersection?”

  He grinned, resting against the wall behind him. “Yeah, more like I just know which cops to call and which not to. Plus, I’ve got some buddies that like to rough people up. They’re always good for sending after someone.”

  “I don’t know…,” I shifted on my feet, confused, “if I understand.”

  “Do you have to?” he asked me, his eyes piercing mine.

  “Why steroids?”

  “Because,” he sighed, “in the beginning, they pissed my dad off.”

  I sighed, and moved to sit in front of him. Tray pulled me back against his chest and wrapped his arms around me. I laid my head on his chest.

  “So…what now?” I asked, both of us knowing what I referred to.

  “I don’t know,” he murmured.

  “I’m not going to be good with Amber and Bryce. Or Jasmine and Devon. Hell no.”

  “Is it Mandy? Or do you just have to piss off all my friends?”

  “I go after those that hurt the ones I love. If Mandy’s going to lay down and let them roll over her—fine. But I won’t. And if she expects me to act nice, fuck no.”

  “They’re expecting me to put you in your place,” he mentioned, one hand caressing my leg.

  “So what do you want me to do? I’m not backing down. That’s not me.”

  “I know, but it’s going to make things a lot tenser with the group.”

  “Why? It’s not like I’m exactly friends with you guys.” I turned to face him, his hands moving to my waist.

  “I know. But I like to be with you as much as possible.” He grinned.

  I rolled my eyes, but I couldn’t contain the faint grin that tugged at my lips.

  “I just don’t like how they treat people.”

  “And we’ve covered this already,” he said wearily.

  “We’re supposed to be volunteering at Mrs. Grantlins’,” I reminded him. Waiting.

  “Mrs. Grantlins asked for volunteers from a bunch of other classes. She’s moving furniture in her office. I’m not volunteering for that,” he said disgustedly.

  “And we’re doing exactly what I just lit into Amber about doing,” I commented, frustrated.

  “No. We’re skipping. I’m not asking to get away with it. If I do—which usually happens—then fine. I’m not passing it up.” Tray grinned, running his hands up my arms and back down to my waist. He pulled me closer to him and leaned forward, nuzzling my neck.

  I melted. I wrapped my arms around his neck. The conversation was officially over.

  Tray kissed his way up my neck, along my chin, and found my lips.

  I lifted my legs and turned to straddle him. Tray slid a hand down my back, slipping it inside my jeans, then up my back, moving to softly caress my breast, underneath my bra.

  “—this place is usually—whoa.”

  Tray heard them first because he lifted his eyes and said simply, “Out.”

  I hid my face in his neck. Glad Tray kept his arms around me, otherwise I might’ve fallen off. I didn’t trust my legs to work, not at that moment.

  “Dude.” It was Bryce, and I could hear the grin in his voice.

  A second later the door clicked shut and Tray nuzzled my neck again.

  I moved to find his lips and we started kissing again as if nothing had happened.

  When the bell rang, I pulled away and stood—unsteadily. Tray held onto my elbow for a little bit.

  “I’m good.”

  “This isn’t just for you,” he retorted, breathing heavily.

  I chuckled, feeling some relief that he was affected just as much as I was. A moment later we left the equipment closet, and once we were in the hallway, we went our separate ways. Tray’s locker was near the quad in the senior hallway. It was the best place for a locker because there was a ton of benches over there, and it was the hub where students just hung out. My locker, on the other hand, faced the parking lot entrance. It was almost impossible to relax or talk with anyone because so many students were either walking into school or leaving.

  I did notice Amber’s heated glare when Tray turned down his hallway. She was leaving the bathroom and saw his hand linger for a moment on my elbow.

  At my locker, I found Sasha waiting for me.

  “What?” I snapped, ready to go another round with her.

  “You think you’re so damned better than us. You’re not. You’re a whore,” she delivered without preamble.

  I sighed, and gave her a pointed glare. “I’m really good at finding out people’s secrets. Want me to find out yours?”

  “Are you threatening me?”

  “I’m warning you. If you want me to come after you, keep it up. It’ll work and when that happens, you’ll find out why guys like Crispin Gentley hate me so much.”

  Sasha just perched her hands on her hips and looked at me with derision. But it worked. She shut up and, after a second huff, she turned and marched down the hallway.

  “The only reason you’re still breathing.” Came from behind me. I turned and saw Amber glaring, she said hotly, “Is because Tray must really like being in your pants. The second he’s tired of you, you need to remember th`is time. Because this is me, promising that you’ll be begging to change schools when that time comes. Take that as a guarantee.”

  “You heard me say my deal to Sasha,” I remarked, heatedly. “But that was a warning. You, I’m already coming after. So you better remember this day, because this is my promise to you—you’re going to learn what a bitch like me can do.”

  We both knew students were stopping to watch us, but neither of us acknowledged them.

  I’d had my say. Amber had her say.

  Now neither of us were willing to b
e the first one to walk away.

  Grant saved us because he walked up and merely dragged Amber behind him. But she wasn’t protesting at all, she just glared at me until he hauled her around the corner.

  Now I realized why I felt comfortable here. It was just like back at Pedlam.

  I grabbed my textbook and hurried into third period where I slipped into an empty seat in the back. I’d purposely sat amongst the potheads. They reminded me of Geezer and I drew some strength from that.

  Walking through the hallways, so many people had sent greetings my way, I thought I had something plastered on my back, like a target or something. But no. They seemed relieved. Grateful. Fourth period was biology. And Molly was almost squealing from her excitement. Guess she’d always hated Amber. Which, I gotta tell you, was a surprise. I knew that I didn’t like Amber, but I never realized how much everyone else hated her, too.

  Guess Amber was the reigning bitch in this school. I always thought it had been Jasmine, but I guess not.

  Molly filled me in, “No one’s wanted to say anything bad about Amber. When Jasmine and Tray broke up, Amber was vicious to Jasmine. Jasmine left school crying a few times and she even quit the cheerleading squad. But that was last year and Amber quit too. I heard that Amber even got Jasmine thrown into a psych ward. She called the police and said she was Jasmine and that she wanted to kill herself. Jasmine’s parents didn’t believe her, so she got put on a seventy-two hour observation.”

  “You have to be making some of this up,” I murmured.

  “And one time, in seventh grade, Amber made Carter Sethlers date Sabrina Lyles because she knew Mandy liked him. So that’s why Mandy and Devon started dating. Amber didn’t want Carter dating Mandy.”

  “That doesn’t even make sense.”

  “It doesn’t have to. Amber is crazy.”

  “Yeah, but…that’s psychotic. She doesn’t strike me as a psycho.”

  “But she is. Amber is capable of anything, that’s why everyone’s scared of her.”

  Everyone except Tray apparently. Oh, and me.

  “And one time,” Molly insisted, leaning closer, whispering, “Amber called the police on Mandy’s thirteenth birthday party because she didn’t invite Amber. They’d had a fight over Bryce. Amber caught her and Bryce kissing in a closet at her own birthday party.”

  The girl had control issues.

  This was how my entire fourth period went.

  Normally I sat alone at lunch. So I was more than surprised when I entered the cafeteria and saw my usual table filled. Honey, Bit, Molly, Larkins, and a bunch of the potheads. I glanced at Mandy’s table and saw Grant, Bryce, and Devon. No Tray.

  Suddenly, I felt his hand wrap around my own. “Come on,” he said, pulling me behind him as he walked us back through the hallways.

  “Where are we going?” Notice I wasn’t protesting, I just wanted to know. It was quite alright with me not to be in that cafeteria. I did see a few disappointed looks when we left.

  “We’re skipping the rest of the day,” he answered, pulling out his keys as we approached his SUV.

  This is not the brightest idea in Plan: Stay Out of Trouble. Again, notice that I wasn’t protesting.

  I climbed into the passenger seat and buckled up.

  The drive was quiet when we pulled up to his house.

  Instead of heading to his pool-house, Tray grabbed my hand and led me into the kitchen. He threw his keys on the marble counter and opened the fridge. From inside, he asked, “You want some pizza?”

  “Not really hungry.”

  He pulled out a pizza box and a Diet Coke. Placing the can in front of me, he warmed up two slices of pizza for himself.

  I grabbed a glass and put some ice in it.

  Tray hopped on a counter and ate his pizza.

  I drank my pop. All was silent. Both of us just staring at each other.

  When he finished, he put his dish away and asked, “Want to watch a movie?”

  “Sure.” I followed him downstairs, remembering his suggestion Saturday morning. He’d offered to watch a movie that night, guess he hadn’t planned on throwing a party.

  I was amazed again at the size of the media room. Curling up next to him, I felt his arm wrap around me while he turned the TV on and chose a movie. Tray must’ve figured I didn’t care, because he chose the latest action-filled suspense thriller on his TiVo.

  After the second car chase, I yawned and nestled closer against him, feeling his hand slip around my waist.

  “Tray,” I mumbled tiredly.

  “Hmm?” He sounded distracted.

  “What are we doing?”

  I felt his body stiffen so I rephrased, “I mean, we’re skipping school. We’re watching a movie. We’re not messing around. We’re not talking. What are we doing?”

  “We’re hiding. Thought that was your thing.”

  “It is.” I sat up. “Sometimes.”

  “Thought I’d hide with you today.” He grinned, tracing a finger down my cheek to my lips, where he traced their outline before leaning in for a lingering kiss.

  I’m all about not protesting today.

  Before the kiss could go further, I pulled away and asked, “Seriously, what’s going on?”

  “I just don’t feel like dealing with Amber and those guys.”

  “And if they pushed?”

  I waited, fully noticing that he paused before answering.

  “Then,” he shrugged, “I don’t know.”

  “Do they know about your dad and your brother?” I asked suddenly, a thought forming in my head.

  “They know about my dad—everyone knows about my dad—but not my brother.”

  “Why not?”

  “Because I don’t go around telling people my business. And because he was already in college when we moved here,” Tray replied, watching me intently, gauging me.

  “So why’d you tell me?”

  “Because you understand that stuff,” he said simply. “Why do we have to have a fucking conversation about it?”

  “Because I want to,” I simply said right back. “And because you know a lot of my shit—I should know your shit.”

  “And what happens when we’re done screwing? My stuff goes public?” he asked roughly.

  My eyebrows raised at that one. “You see that happening?”

  “When we’re done with this? Or my life going public?”

  “Both.”

  And that was the crux of it. Tray didn’t want to answer that. I could see he didn’t want to answer that. So I did it for him.

  “I’m not into talking about—what we have going on—that’s not me. But…your life won’t go public. I can guarantee that.”

  “And I should just trust you?” he asked shrewdly.

  I shrugged. “I think I’ve already proven you can trust me…with a lot of shit.” Which reminded me… “Do you still have the PRS-500?”

  “Uh…yeah. Why? You want it back?”

  “Yeah.” I wanted those codes. Just because I didn’t want him to have it, didn’t mean I didn’t want them. It’s why I had Geezer hide everything.

 
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