The original crowd, p.32
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       The Original Crowd, p.32

         Part #0.5 of A Whole New Crowd series by Tijan
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  “You can get me that? Why?”

  “You gotta do something for me,” I stated silkily.

  She frowned, glancing at Tray underneath her eyelids.

  I stepped closer. “And no, it’s got nothing to do with him.”

  “What is it?”

  “I need you to go on a date with someone. Hell, take him with you to the concert.”

  “Who?” she asked suspiciously.

  “Oh no. It don’t work that way. You’re in or not.” I wanted my deal done. I did the negotiations, no one else.

  I caught a quick grin flash across Tray’s features—he’d seen this side of me before.

  Aidrian chewed on it for a moment. Then she said, “Fine.”

  “Fine,” I said firmly.

  “Who is it?”

  “He’ll pick you up with the tickets. Just be ready,” I instructed her, and then I raised my hands, Tray’s keys hanging from my fingers. “Thought you might want these.”

  Tray took them, his fingers sliding against mine for a moment.

  One hand grabbed one of my belt loops and yanked me against him, he asked, “You coming over tonight?” He bent and nuzzled my neck—I was realizing he loved to do that. One of his hands slid down my back and rested just inside the back of my pants, his palm hot against my skin.

  Casners was watching us, so was everyone else.

  I was tempted, I really was, but I had work to do.

  I sighed, turning to give him a long, deep kiss. “I can’t.” I pushed him away. “I have work to do. Remember?”

  He frowned at that. “Taryn—”

  I heard the warning in his voice and I snapped, “Don’t even.” I didn’t care who heard. “They fucked with me—they’re going down. Even if I don’t get any sleep for a year straight.”

  I made sure to send a warning sweep over Casners as I finished that statement.

  Tray caught my elbow and dragged me away, pulling me into an empty room. He pulled me close against him and warned, “You need to be careful.”

  I wrenched away from him. “What are you talking about?”

  “You’re not going after Lanser. You’re going after Galverson,” he stated.

  “So what?”

  “So it doesn’t matter how good a thief you might be or where you can break into. He won’t care, trust me, Taryn,” he bit out, gravely serious. “All he’ll care about is where you live, who your family is…and he’ll go after you, by using them. Just like he went after my family.”

  “This doesn’t have to do with your family or my family. This doesn’t even have to do with Galverson. This has to do with Jace and everyone else who’s lying to me.”

  “Why does it matter?” Tray cried out, irritated. “You’re not there anymore. You’re here. Why does it goddamn matter what they’re lying to you about? It might have nothing to do with you, they just might be doing this so you’re protected—think about that? It happens, Taryn. It could happen.”

  “You don’t even know—” I shrugged him off.

  “No. I don’t. But I know Galverson. He’s the reason why I’m alone in that house of mine. He’s the reason why I don’t ever see my brother anymore, I don’t even know if he’s alive,” he shouted.

  The shouting managed to rattle me. I blinked, realizing I had only been seeing through my revenge-tinted glasses. That was the perspective I’d adopted since last night, since I made a resolution to find out the truth.

  But I saw a different Tray before me. He wasn’t giving me the cool, calm, controlled façade everyone else saw. I mean—yes—it was there. If anyone else would’ve come in, they would have been scared shitless of Evans. But I saw what they didn’t. I always had, remembering that I’d seen Tray slip back into his mask when Mandy had sat at our table. She hadn’t. She hadn’t even noticed anything.

  But I was seeing it again.

  There was a raw need in him now. And I saw a glimmer of something—something that sent a shiver down my back—just underneath. I saw what Jace had warned me about.

  “What are you talking about?” I asked, slightly calmer.

  “Nothing. Just,” he raked a hand through his hair in frustration, “leave it alone.”

  “No.”

  “Taryn,” he began again, “I get it. Okay. I get it. You want revenge, you’ve been hurt. I get it—trust me. But you’re going to take on more than you can handle. If you go after Lanser, you’re going after Galverson. Galverson’s not gonna give a shit what you can steal or what secrets you’ve got on him. The second you come onto his radar, he’s just going to send someone after you.”

  “I’m not going out to persecute him. I just want to know what they did to me.”

  “How do you even know they did something?” he asked, losing his patience.

  “Because nothing makes sense. It hasn’t for a while. Brian’s not about stealing bracelets. Geezer’s been…he’s been off since I left. And Jace—it’s like he wanted me to leave. He wasn’t…he wasn’t trying to get me back for visits or anything. And…he didn’t want me to know how Galverson was. Jace never uses that tone with me. Never.”

  “So what?”

  “And because Jace was working a deal a year ago about me. He was ‘making arrangements’ for me. I need to know what those arrangements were.” I clipped out, unmoving.

  Tray let out an exasperated groan. “Fuck, Taryn, you’re going to get yourself killed!”

  “Oh please,” I muttered.

  “You don’t know what you’re getting yourself into.”

  “And you do?”

  “Yes!” he yelled, “I do.” He caught his words, but he looked at me and said, “My brother was going after him. Galverson was his case. Chance was determined to take Galverson down, but he got to our dad first.” He fell silent, drawing in a shuttering breath. “The intersection that Lanser talked to you about—it’s the intersection in our state—and we’re smack in the middle of the drug exportation line. Rawley runs this intersection—it’s why Chance knew about Galverson, because he’d run deals through Rawley. Chance went after Galverson’s daughter, he used her to tap info on him.”

  I had a sinking feeling that I would not like what I was about to hear.

  Tray continued, “Galverson found out and went after our dad to get at Chance. Chance was a—is—a DEA agent. He’s…slightly untouchable, but Galverson doesn’t work that way. He tapped our dad. He pulled him into the business, bribed him, got him hooked on coke. Reason why I live in that place is because of money that Galverson sent our way.”

  Some of it made sense. “Where do you come in?”

  Tray laughed bitterly. “I…I was the one who sent my dad away. Chance used me against our dad and Galverson. I got everything, every fucking deal, on tape. Dad thought I idolized him, that I wanted to be just like him, so he took me with him on all the trips. I saw everything. Every fucking deal, every fucking drug-runner there was, every fucking…I saw the girls, I saw the…I saw everything.”

  “And?”

  I didn’t want to hear it, but I had to. And I had a feeling that Tray had to say it. I was guessing he hadn’t let any of this out—not to anyone.

  “And,” he took a deep breath, staring off into the distance, “and I took everything I had gathered—wires, videos, photos, everything—and made copies then put ‘em in an account. Then I confronted Dad, told him that I had all the evidence I needed to send him away; told him to get the fuck out of my life and that I hated him; told him the next time I saw him I’d kill him.”

  “So he took your mom to South America with him.”

  “Yeah,” Tray sighed, “and I went to see Galverson next. That’s the first time I met Jace. I told him he needed to pull out of Rawley. No business would go through my territory anymore. I just wanted all of them out. I gave him a taste of what I had on him—on all of them—and I told him if anything ever happened to me, the evidence would be sent to the DEA and about seven other law enforcement agencies itching to take him down.”
/>
  “He let you live.” It was a startling revelation, but the proof stood before me.

  “Yeah. I was just a kid. Galverson knew that, plus, my dad had become valuable to him. Something happen to me, there’d be a rift between them. And all I wanted was my life back. I didn’t really think long-term in the future, you know. I just wanted my dad gone, everything out of sight, which meant Rawley.” He chuckled. “I didn’t really think what it would do to me.”

  “What do you mean?”

  “I got a reputation because of it. I was known as the owner of Rawley’s intersection. Galverson kept his runners away from the intersection, but there were others that didn’t listen.”

  “And you wanted it all gone,” I murmured, in my eyes I saw a boy who’d been stripped of everything: his parents, his brother, his sense of safety.

  And I remembered how I’d judged him when we first met. I thought he’d had it all: money, family, looks, intelligence. I thought he was lazy, just blessed and advantaged and ready to waste that away.

  I’d never been that off before.

  “I told you—I know both sides. I know the cops and I know the criminals. So, I’d call up some of dad’s old buddies, the ones who lean a bit too much on the opposite side of the law—if you know what I mean—and I sent them after the drug-runners. They always ended up in the hospital. Some of ‘em were put in comas. It was a perfect deal. I could ID any drug-runner, I knew who they were working with, and I just told the guys who hated drug dealers, but knew there wasn’t anything legal they could do about ‘em.” He sighed. “Rawley’s got the rep for drug dealers to steer clear from here. Even though I don’t know some of the new crews. I know the big ones, some of the small guys are probably a lot bigger now, but…that’s the thing with drugs. There’s always someone new in the business. Lanser was small news back then, but he’s progressed to be a full partner with Galverson.”

  “How do you know he’s a full partner?”

  “Galverson only meets his partners in person,” Tray stated.

  “When did this happen?” I asked softly, seeing the battle going on inside of him.

  “When I was in the eighth grade,” he said hoarsely, his body frozen in place.

  I didn’t know what to say.

  “Tray—” I started, but fell silent.

  “It’s not really something I want to go through again, Taryn,” he said quietly, then he left.

  *

  To say that I was off-kilter, was an understatement. Yeah…I knew Jace was in some heavy shit. But—like before…I often placed myself happily in the land of denial. But…holy shit—what Tray had gone through, what I knew Galverson now represented…it put some stuff in perspective.

  But I still wanted to know what Jace had done, what he had arranged me. I just…wouldn’t bring it up when I’m with Tray. He probably wouldn’t ask anyway.

  I sighed, a long shattering breath, when I exited the room. Leaving a few minutes after Tray. I glanced down the hallway, most of his crew was gone. He was certainly gone.

  And I didn’t really want to think about the hell he had gone through…that could be…he’d talked. We’ll talk again, but later.

  And to tell the truth, I don’t know how I was feeling, having all that laid on me. I mean, yeah, I’d laid my shit on him. But…not everything everything. Not like that. But then again—he wasn’t going after my demons better left in the closet.

  Ugh. And then I had to acknowledge the other feelings. He’d told me…he’d…shared something that went beyond deep and secret—with me. Not anyone else.

  I swear, one side of my stomach just dropped in dread…but because I wasn’t feeling regret at what he’d shared with me. The fact that he had shared with me, not about what he had shared with me. I felt some old elation mixed in there…and that’s what the dread was about.

  “Taryn.”

  I whirled around, grateful for a distraction.

  “Molly!” I exclaimed, with a wide smile. Then I saw the two girls behind her. One was skinny, skinny, and more skinny, with pale hair. She wasn’t looking at me, but was enraptured with a one-sided conversation with the floor.

  It’s a talker. Could talk your ear off.

  The other girl was about the opposite in every way—she was large, large, and more large. She had jet black hair and looked a little Goth with her make-up, but on second glance I don’t think that she was going for the Goth look. I think that was just her natural coloring.

  “These are my friends, Angela and Kayden.”

  “Oh, hey,” I said easily. “I like the name.”

  Kayden was the darker girl. Angela was the pale anorexic. Now, I know it’s not nice to label girls this skinny as anorexic, but it’s the only word that came to mind.

  “Guys, this is Taryn,” Molly continued, shuffling her feet awkwardly. She was glancing between me and them.

  I stuck my hand out. “Hi.”

  Finally, both of them looked at me. I think they were a bit shocked that I actually wanted to meet them. And, to tell the truth, I could see why they were known as Invisibles. They made themselves invisible. I never would’ve noticed ‘em if Molly hadn’t been talking to me and to them.

  Angela grinned, one quick grin, and then she was chatting with the floor again. Not really chatting, chatting, but it looked like she was trying to stare it down.

  Kayden murmured a soft, “Hi.” Then she went back to looking everywhere else again.

  Molly gave me another awkward grin, lifting one shoulder helplessly.

  “You guys want to go and get something to eat?” I asked, being extremely nice—which was so not me, but I was trying here.

  “Hey, bitch!” I turned around and saw Amber walking my way.

  Wow. When I turned back around, I was amazed. The Invisibles had scrambled—literally. Even Molly seemed to vanish.

  Well, shit, how many arguments was I going to get into today? Did Tray count as one?

  “What?” I asked simply. I was getting tired of this.

  “What the hell did you say to Mandy?” she demanded, literally seething.

  “A whole lot of the same,” I murmured, looking for the Invisibles. They were really good at their name. I frowned, checking the other way.

  “She’s crying hysterically in the girls’ locker room. Erin said it’s because of you.”

  “Amber,” I started warily, “back off.”

  “Or what?”

  “Oh my God, how many times do we have to go over this? I don’t like you. I’m not ever going to like you, but I’m not scared of you either. Whatever you got, try it. Trust me…you’ll be fun to take on…and a piece of cake. Until you’ve got something new to say, just shut up. Please.”

  “I cannot believe—”

  “Mandy’s my sister. I love her. But when she asks for my opinion, I’m going to give it to her. And I’m not going to let her pull me into your twisted games. I have enough stuff of my own to worry about.”

  Amber fell silent. Thank God. I really was thanking Him—because she turned and left. Finally.

  I looked for the Invisibles again, and after checking out the parking lot I saw them. I couldn’t believe it. They were standing underneath a tree in the farthest corner where a picnic table was. Wow. Talk about—a hiding place if you ever wanted to hide from a mass murderer.

  As I started over to them, I was also shocked to see Tray’s SUV still in the lot, but no Tray. Huh.

  “Hey,” I called out and saw Molly turn around to me.

  “Hi.” Her smile looked forced. Guess the whole two groups of friends meeting each other was stressful.

  “You okay? You guys want to grab a bite to eat?” I asked, making sure my voice was casual. I had a feeling that if I used anything else, they’d scatter—again—like frightened deer.

  “Uh—” Molly murmured, glancing between Angela and Kayden.

  “I’ll go and grab my car and pull around. How about that?” I suggested, and then I took off before they could say
no. To my surprise, they were still there when I drove around. Molly took the front seat, and Angela and Kayden sat stiffly in the back. Kayden
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