The original crowd, p.34
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       The Original Crowd, p.34

         Part #0.5 of A Whole New Crowd series by Tijan
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  I grinned. “He got a girlfriend down there?”

  Shelley sent a radiant wink and a grin my way. “That’s my thinking too. Maybe we should ‘investigate’ later, hmmm?”

  “Looks like homemade pizza,” I murmured, watching her take a pan out of the oven.

  “Oh, hmm mmm. Austin’s favorite. Mandy always liked the same. They have the same tastes in a lot of ways. Pizza, lasagna, and now Mandy loves salads. Poor thing.” Her eyes lit up. “Oh my gosh, I’m so sorry, Taryn. I forgot to ask how your friend is. The one in the hospital?”

  “Uh—” I didn’t even know, except that he was a liar. “He’s…in rare form again,” I replied, with a hint of sarcasm.

  “Oh good. I was worried about you, you know. I know that you’re having a hard time with moving here from Pedlam. You must have a bunch of good friends back there. I’m sure you miss it.”

  “Yeah,” I said softly, realizing that I did. At times I missed it so much that it was painful. Right now I wished I could just turn my back on it, forget it ever existed, but it was hard.

  “Hey, I was thinking,” Shelley said brightly. “Why don’t you and I go swimming again this evening? You know, after Austin and his friends eat and everything? I thought it would be fun. What do you think?”

  “I—” I started, but she interrupted me before I could blow her off.

  “Great! Let’s plan on heading out in two hours.” Then she was at the stairway, calling, “Austin! The pizza’s done, guys. Come and get it.”

  A second later, I had just enough time to step out of the way when Austin and five pubescent boys and three girls rushed upstairs, zeroing in on the pizza in record time.

  The girls were slower, looking a bit uncertainly at the pizza. I knew how they were feeling. They wanted it, they were salivating for it, but being skinny meant not eating. Especially in front of boys, who were inhaling the food without chewing.

  “Hey, your sis is hot, man!” one guy said, his mouth moving around a mouthful of pizza. He nudged Austin. “You never told us that.”

  The girls were staring at me intently, raking me up and down, checking me out.

  “Shut up, dick,” Austin retorted, wiping his mouth.

  “Austin,” Shelley reprimanded, looking stern, but just failing. You could see the way she adored her son.

  “Whatever.” Austin rolled his eyes. “Mom, where’s the pop?”

  “Oh. I’ll go and grab some. I left them in the car.”

  “Why don’t Austin and all his friends go and get them?” I suggested, staring down one of his friends, seeing a hand reaching out to cop a feel, he was getting perilously close to my ass for his own livelihood.

  “Oh, come on!” Austin cried out.

  “Go,” I ordered. And they went, but Austin flicked me off—it was becoming his favorite gesture—just as they slipped out the door.

  I looked at the girls. “Okay. Quick, grab a few pieces and head downstairs. I’ll hold ‘em off for a while.”

  Each looked gratefully at me, giving me looks of godlike idolatry as they grabbed their plates and darted downstairs.

  “Well,” Shelley gave me an appraising look, “I didn’t even think of that.”

  I leaned a hip against the counter. “I’m a girl and I remember what it was like when I was that age.”

  Pretty soon, the guys bounded back inside, each with a twenty-four pack in their arms. Unloading them on the counter, they each grabbed another piece of pizza. I tapped one of the boxes. “These can go in the pantry, where the pop always goes.” I gave Austin a pointed glare. The kid was testing the boundaries right now, he knew where they went. I knew he was only acting like this because his friends were here, but Shelley was just letting him get away with it.

  Fine. I’ll be the bitch.

  Grumbling, Austin showed them where to go—half of the guys knew where they went anyway—and when they came back, I saw his hand slowly raising, his finger was inching upwards…

  “If that finger touches the air, you’re computer’s going to mysteriously come down with a virus and all your porn’s going to be gone.”

  The finger stayed in place, and the hand was lowered back to his side, but he still glared at me.

  The rest of the little dudes inched away from me. The one who tried to touch my ass suddenly looked like the pizza had gone down the wrong tube.

  “Whatever.” Austin shrugged, saving face, and then they grabbed the rest of the pizza, some pop, and headed back downstairs.

  Shelley was fighting back a grin and burst out laughing the second they were around the corner.

  “Oh, dear. I shouldn’t be laughing, but I’ve never seen Austin handled like that. I’ve never been able to get him to do anything.”

  I shrugged and went to my own room. It should’ve been her job, not mine or Mandy’s. We weren’t the parents.

  When I got to my room, I sat at my desk and did homework. I worked for a good hour straight, getting most of everything done, including a paper that’s due at the end of the semester in psychology. Mrs. Maslow would be so proud—it was on Pavlov’s behavioral conditioning. Ivan and his dogs had nothing on him and those little rats.

  “Taryn.” Shelley knocked and poked her head through. “You think you’ll be ready to go pretty soon?”

  I checked my phone, no calls. Thank God.

  “Yeah, give me five minutes,” I replied, starting to look forward to a good swim.

  A moment later we were in the car and Shelley was pulling back out into the road. She was so excited, swimming just cleared her head and she loved that it was something we could do together. And she loved how Austin and I seemed to have bonded. Really. His friends couldn’t shut up about me, they thought I was so cool. She’d heard it herself, when she went down to hang out with them and watch a movie. She talked the entire way. I stayed silent.

  Holy hell, the water felt great. It felt great to do my own thing again. I spent an hour on the diving boards and two hours doing laps. I felt alive when I pulled myself out.

  I saw Shelley at a patio table, talking with a slim, older guy. He looked to be in his thirties, and he didn’t look half bad. I saw the shoulders and knew he was a swimmer or had been a swimmer.

  “Taryn!” Shelley gushed, extending a hand to me and pulling me to her side. “This is Mr. Greenly. You know, the coach I was telling you about.”

  “Hi,” I said stiffly, feeling uncomfortable. Didn’t Shelley know I hated to be hugged by now?

  “Prescott saw you on the diving boards. He’d like you to try out for the swim team. Isn’t that magnificent?”

  “Uh—” I must’ve looked in pain, because Prescott chuckled.

  He murmured, “Coach Greenly.” He extended a hand out and shook mine. “You have a lot of talent. If you’re interested in getting pushed and training to your potential, come talk to me. My office is in the rec center, just off the pool.”

  It actually sounded tempting, but I couldn’t think about it right now. I had enough on my mind.

  On the way home, Shelley was already planning my future: what scholarship I was going to get, what schools I should apply to.

  I sighed in relief when I finally managed to escape to my room. I closed the door and quickly laid on my bed, exhaustion seeping into every bone.

  I must’ve fallen asleep, because I woke up to my phone ringing. It was ten at night and the hallway was dark under my door.

  Rolling over, I grabbed it—Mandy.

  “Hello?” I asked, disoriented.

  “Hey, where are you?” she asked.

  “At home.”

  “Mom and Dad home?”

  “I dunno. We went swimming and then I fell asleep, but I think everyone’s asleep. The hallway’s dark and I don’t hear anything.”

  “Thank God.” She breathed in relief. “Listen, if Mom and Dad ask, tell them I came home late and left early.”

  “Are you at Devon’s?” I asked, laying my head on my pillow.

  There was a mo
ment of silence on the other end before she answered, “Are you going to go off on me if I say yes?”

  “No,” I muttered. “You already know how I feel.”

  “Yes, I do,” she sounded annoyed, “but this is my decision.”

  “I know, I know. I’m just looking out for you, you know. We’re sisters and all,” I mumbled, feeling awkward. All this new family stuff was new to me.

  “Okay,” she trailed off for a moment, “I thought you’d be at Tray’.”

  “No. We’re…he’s not happy with me right now.”

  “You guys had a fight?”

  “I guess you could call it that. I don’t know what it was.”

  “But you’re not over there?”

  “No.”

  “And you’d like to be?”

  “Yeah.”

  “But you can’t because of whatever it is?” Mandy was just good at this game.

  “Yeah.”

  “You’re in a fight,” she announced proudly.

  “Are you happy about this?” I asked, confused and annoyed.

  “Yes! Tray is in a fight, with a girl. A girl. And it’s my sister. That’s awesome!” she cried out excitedly.

  “I cease to understand the significance. All I know is that I can’t go over there until I make a decision about something…one that he’ll be happy with.”

  “What was the fight about?” she asked curiously.

  “I want to go after my friends. He doesn’t want me to.” I kept it short and simple. It was the basic gist of it anyway. She didn’t need to know all about Galverson and Tray’s eighth grade year of hell.

  “Oh.”

  “Oh…what?”

  “Nothing. Just, oh,” Mandy commented.

  I heard a muffling sound on her end and asked, “Is that Devon?”

  “Yeah. Amber and Erin are here too. We just ordered some food.”

  “Who’s Erin?”

  “A friend of mine. She’s on the student council with me,” Mandy replied, her voice half-turned from the phone.

  “Alright, I’ll pass along your lie to Shelley and Kevin.” I laughed, hanging up. I got up, brushed my teeth, and changed into my pajamas. I crawled in my bed and curled underneath the covers. I was asleep within moments.

  *

  The next morning I had a realization: Shelley and Keven had no clue as to what went on in their own home. None. Mandy didn’t come home last night and they didn’t even noticed. They didn’t care.

  To tell the truth, I was surprised they passed the adoption agency’s investigation. Kevin was never home. If he wasn’t at the hospital, he was off with his golf buddies or at a medical conference. And Shelley was just clueless all around.

  I was a bit surprised that their marriage worked. I saw no interaction between them. But I knew there must’ve been something between them, Shelley went on a lot of the conferences with him. Which is what she was packing for that morning. When I entered the kitchen, I saw three suitcases on the stoop and Shelley was flying from the kitchen, down the basement, back up, and then up to their bedroom. Occasionally she made a side trip to the foyer closet. Then back to do the entire routine again.

  It would’ve been funny if I hadn’t realized, at that moment, that I was more a boarder—not paying rent—than a daughter. This is how Mandy and Austin must feel.

  “Uh,” I spoke up, “Mandy wanted me to let you know that she took off early this morning for school. She needed to do some stuff with student council.”

  “Oh, okay,” Shelley mumbled, distracted. She stopped, suddenly, and turned to me. “You have a good day at school, Taryn. And don’t forget to talk to Coach Greenly. He seems like a very nice man.” Then she was off again.

  Grabbing an apple, I left and saw Austin waiting on the curb with a sullen look on his face.

  “Hey, punk. Need a ride?”

  He glowered at me for a moment and then stood up slowly, following me to my car. As I pulled out onto the road, I asked, “So, another conference, huh?”

  “This one’s in Switzerland,” he snapped, slumping in his seat. “They’re going to be gone for freaking three weeks. It’s a month-long conference, that’s what Mom said.”

  “And your dad?”

  “He’s an asshole,” Austin mumbled, looking out his window.

  I dropped him off outside the middle school and was surprised when he said, “See you later.” No middle finger goodbye this time. We were making progress.

  When I got to the high school, I parked in my normal spot. The hallways were crowded, like always, but there was excitement in the air: the football team was leaving for the play-offs that afternoon.

  Which meant no Devon for two days.

  Which meant Mandy would be annoying as hell for two days.

  Which meant…fuck.

  First period was exhausting. All the cheerleaders were out—they’d gotten permission to finish their decorations for the pep-rally. The football players were leaving immediately after the pep-rally, which meant we got out of sixth period twenty minutes early. I’d yet to decide if was going to attend or skip. Who wouldn’t skip? Seriously.

  I actually attended health for second period. No Tray. Molly informed me that he had skipped, along with all the football players.

  So needless to say, school passed without event. Every class was full of just normal average students and some of the discussions were actually fun. Interesting to listen to, at least. I got into a debate in history. I knew way more about the Roman Empire than whatever her name was.

  Molly told me later that she was our soon-to-be valedictorian.

  Imagine that. But I did know more than she did. And the teacher agreed with me.

  And…surprise, surprise: sixth period was magically full. It was like everyone that was skipping decided to attend sixth period. And I have no idea why.

  Hearing the last bell, everyone filed out and chaos ensued. I swear, half the students took off for the parking lot and the other half went to the auditorium. I was still torn: to skip or not to skip?

  “Hey,” Molly piped up from behind me.

  “Hi.” I gave her a lazy grin.

  “You going out?” She gestured to the parking lot.

  “Uh…I haven’t decided if I’m skipping or not.”

  She looked confused. “Um…the pep rally’s in the parking lot.”

  I shut my locker and replied, “Yeah. I knew that.” I’m such a moron.

  “Ookay—”

  As we both walked down the hallway, I was a bit surprised. The pep rally committee and cheerleaders had outdone themselves. In the middle of the parking lot stood a huge corral and to the side was a livestock trailer filled hay and miniature donkeys.

  In the middle of the corral was a stage, with the cheerleaders all standing up and waiting.

  “Hey, Rawley!” one of the cheerleaders called out.

  The crowd went wild.

  As the cheerleaders proceeded to perform their cheer, I saw Tray in the back of the parking lot. He was sitting on the top of his SUV, with a few other guys. I also saw Aidrian Casners standing right below him, smiling up at him. When he looked down, her chest was perfectly displayed for his eyes.

  Okay. I guess I never really decided he wasn’t a bastard so he really wasn’t letting me down right now.

  The cheerleaders finished their cheer and the coach came onto the stage. Speech one was given, speech two (by the football captain, which was the guy that was sitting by Tray) was done, and then the trailer opened and the donkeys were led out.

 
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