The original crowd, p.38
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       The Original Crowd, p.38

         Part #0.5 of A Whole New Crowd series by Tijan
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  “Gentley will be nice. I’m tired of his shit. If he’s not, he’ll deal with our crew.”

  “Then his steroid supply will be cut off.”

  Tray snorted. “Like that matters to him. Gentley will just go somewhere else.”

  “You know,” I mused, “I don’t get it. You’re selling steroids to piss your dad off, but your dad’s not here anymore.”

  He shrugged, looking a little sheepish. “I started dealing them when I was pretty young, when my dad would have actually gotten pissed about shit like that.”

  “And you realized how nice the money is?”

  “Sort of. It’s good to know who’s on it, makes making bets a bit easier, if you know what I mean.”

  “Oh my God. You sell steroids and then you bet on whoever is taking them?”

  He grinned. “Sometimes. I don’t really need the money, but it passes the time.”

  “You get a rush from it?” I asked, sitting up, moving to sit beside him.

  “I don’t know, he murmured. . “I stopped thinking about it a while ago. I just do it, you know?”

  “I, on the other hand,” I announced, rolling my eyes, “am actually trying not to do anything illegal.”

  He laughed. “And I pulled you right back in.”

  “Yeah.” I realized it was true, but I said, “I would’ve stolen something else anyway, eventually. It’s the rush. Nothing else like it.”

  “What about diving? You looked obsessed today.”

  I smiled, remembering the feeling. Holy fuck, I’d go back, this second, if it was on the table. “Yeah,” I commented. “I get it there too.”

  Standing up, Tray replied, “Well, that’s a lot more productive than stealing shit.”

  Which was true. He walked towards the door.

  “Are you coming out?” he asked over his shoulder, a hand on the door handle.

  “Pretty soon,” I replied, realizing that it required me to get up and get dressed. It required me—moving. The only moving I wanted to do, was my chest rising up and down in a good, deep sleeping motion.

  “Alright,” he said easily, then slipped through the door. I noticed he’d locked the door from the inside before he pulled it shut.

  I was starting to realize, among many other things, how observant and thoughtful he could be. Tray was…surprising and not what the eye met. The guy was gorgeous, that had never been denied. Hell, straight guys probably thought he was gorgeous.

  But he was—scarily intelligent. Tray was ahead of me by two moves, at least, and I was just starting to understand that.

  Groaning, I moved up and dressed. Finishing a French braid in my hair, I moved to the door and was met with a crowd of people. A party had migrated to Tray’s place without us realizing it.

  I declined a cup of beer, which was offered to me by a guy manning the keg. Let’s hope they only brought one, and not five.

  Why would they need a keg before we headed to Rickets’ House?

  Rooters was at the kitchen table, telling a story to Honey and Bit, who were smiling and nodding politely.

  “Hi, Taryn!” Honey exclaimed. “I like your outfit, very cute.”

  “Thanks.” I was wearing loose-fitting, light-weight trousers that weren’t too baggy, but were comfortable at the same time, and a sky blue tank top that wrapped around and crisscrossed in the middle of my chest and tied behind my neck.

  “Looking good, Matthews.” Rooters gave me a whistle. What a moron. But I laughed.

  “Is it true? Is Tristan Reynolds here tonight?” Honey asked eagerly.

  All this gossip.

  I shrugged.

  “We heard she got into town last week because she left her boarding school, against her parent’s wishes. But she couldn’t see any of her friends because her brother made her promise not to let anyone know she was here.”

  I could care less.

  So I lied, “I don’t really know anything.”

  Then I left. I didn’t care if it was rude, but seriously, I just couldn’t handle the gossip anymore. It seemed like it was all these people did.

  “You’re still standing, I see.”

  I stopped in the hallway and saw Crystal Fairs leaning against the stair’s spiraled rail.

  “Hi.” I was surprised—again—I was actually grateful to see her. “Didn’t know this was your scene?”

  “Aidrian’s here. She’s entertaining,” she said, like it made perfect sense. Crystal added, “You handled her well, by the by. I was impressed.”

  “Yeah, well, it’s a gift,” I murmured distractedly as I moved out of the way of people. Holy hell. “What’s up with all these people? I didn’t think Tray was having a frickin’ party before we went to Rickets’ House.”

  “How many you think are going to go to school tomorrow? I’m guessing about a third. I know I’ll probably skip the next few days. It’s the play-offs. It’s like a five-day party…or it should be.”

  The thought had promise.

  Suddenly, Tray materialized at my side and wrapped his arm around my waist. “Ready to go?” he asked.

  “No,” I answered truthfully. I had no desire to go anywhere with all these people.

  Crystal laughed. And her stock went higher.

  “Crystal’s gonna ride with us,” I announced.

  Tray shrugged, gesturing to Carter.

  Then we heard an ear-splitting whistle. Carter yelled out, “Let’s go! Everyone out!”

  As the crowd dispersed, Crystal walked by my side and commented, “It’s going to be a show when we all show up at that place.”

  “No doubt. I hope the cops don’t follow.” Then I remembered—Tray had ‘em in his back pocket. Which would account for how he got away with all his steroid business and underage parties.

  If I didn’t know the whole story, I’d called him an advantaged bastard. Or dick. That was more like me.

  *

  It’d started to rain as we drove to Rickets’ House and for some reason, it was depressing. Normally, I’m one to grin when it rains. It makes me want to curl up and cuddle, not alone though. It’s relaxing and meditative; makes you want to be lazy.

  But this time, it was depressing and I don’t really know why.

  I’d meant to talk with Crystal on the ride to Rickets’. She was a fellow Pedlamite, but maybe that was the problem. She had ties to a place I considered home, a place where I no longer had the bonds that made it home. Those were gone.

  Brian…he’d been my rock. He never meant to be, it’d been the furthest thing from his mind the first time we kissed. He was an eighth grade boy, he wanted in my pants. I’m not stupid. It had been the way of so many guys. But Brian was different. There’d been a boyish charm. Yeah, he liked pissing the teachers off—but that was because Jace was already infamous, either hated or loved.

  Everyone knew who Jace Lanser was.

  Either the teachers hated him or was secretly impressed by him. Most of the girls, even the ‘good’ girls wanted him.

  I could attest to that. I’d decimated a good two dozen trying to worm their way through me.

  Brian was a…a puppy wanting to be bad. Because he had an older brother that turned greyhound overnight.

  But the funny thing was, it was completely the opposite in their home. Jace was the hated and Brian the adored.

  Both brothers, vying for the place each held. Just not in the same spot.

  No. Brian thought he could ‘pick’ me up and he’d be after the next girl. It hadn’t happened that way.

  We kissed, our first clumsy, disgustingly wet, kiss. It had been outside the elementary school, at their playground. We’d gone over there because no middle school kids would be there. And their teachers always left early.

  And the next day, Brian had tried to give me the slip. He sent a note, via Grayley, telling me he thought it’d be better off if we were friends. Just friends.

  I retaliated by getting our janitor to change his lock on his locker. And I grinned, in satisfaction, as B
rian cursed, trying to get into his locker for a full hour. He’d put such a dent in that locker, the janitor had to change his lock a third time. But before leaving, the janitor had pointed me out.

  Brian had been mystified.

  We both glared at each other, across the damn hallway, and I taunted him. I told him he better think twice before trying to ‘play’ me. I thought I was so witty.

  And the funny thing is, he’d shown at my locker the next day and walked me to my class. Like nothing had happened. We had our second kiss that day, in the gymnasium, under the bleachers.

  But we got caught. So time spent in detention solidified it for us. We were officially a couple, like Bonnie and Clyde.

  That’s what we liked to think.

  But, no, Brian had never sought out to become my rock. It just happened. My foster dad would threaten me, beat me, and I’d just go and sit outside Brian’s window. At first he didn’t even know, but one time he saw me. After that, I just crawled into his room. If he wasn’t there, I’d curl and sleep on his bed. And if he was, we’d hold hands. And kiss, but Brian had become scared of me. So he never pushed. Not really.

  And sometimes I got a good foster family.

  So I became his rock. During those times when Jace would have a particularly rough fight, I let Brian crawl into my room.

  That became the pattern for us.

  I knew he was capable of violence. I’d seen it enough time. Never against me, but against his father, and against Jace. That’s what they grew up with. Their mom took off a long time ago.

  So it was the three of them.

  And Jace was right—their dad had turned ‘em against each other. Their relationship had been doomed from the beginning. Or so it seemed most of the time. But sometimes, I still saw Brian’s idol worship for his big brother. And sometimes I saw the big brother come out of Jace.

  They loved each other, but they were just too busy hating each other first.

  “Hey,” Crystal nudged me with her arm, her voice soft, “you okay?”

  I hadn’t even realized I was crying.

  “Yeah,” I murmured, glancing away as I quickly wiped at my tears, “I’m fine.”

  “Is…?” I knew she wanted to ask about it, but I didn’t want to hear it. So I’m sure she got that.

  I missed Brian. I missed…the familiarity. I missed hearing him laugh and do his half-groan at the same time. I missed when he’d get angry and the corner of his eyes would squint—just slightly—but then he’d just swear and go back to being happy. I missed…how he could never lie to me. How he’d whisper his love for me. His need for me.

  I missed that life.

  Brian had been my life.

  “You coming?” I was jolted back to reality and realized Tray had the car waiting, dropping off Crystal and Carter at the door. Crystal stood at her door, asking if I was coming in with them.

  “Uh, no. I’ll walk with Tray,” I replied hoarsely.

  “Suit yourself,” she said lightly, closing the door.

  Tray didn’t say anything as he parked and shut the vehicle off. Neither of us moved.

  I stayed in place, sitting in the back, right behind him, and I cried. I just…cried. They were silent tears, a continuous stream down my face. I couldn’t look at Tray so I looked outside.

  After awhile, he turned around and held my hand. His simple touch made me cry harder.

  Then he moved to the back and held me. He curled me against his chest, with my hands fisting his shirt, and I openly sobbed.

  Seemingly exhaustive moments later, I quieted. The well had gone dry.

  Tray pressed a kiss to my forehead. He rested his cheek against my forehead and sighed a deep breath, and, for some reason, it calmed me. It strengthened me.

  “I’m…” I tried to say.

  Tray soothed, “It’s about fucking time. Just…cry, alright?”

  “I’m good. Really,” I whispered, tipping my head back to meet his eyes.

  “Sure?”

  “Yes.” I smiled tenderly and kissed him softly.

  “Alright.” He sighed. “Ready to go?”

  “Ready to go,” I assured him, and climbed out of the SUV.

  And because no one was around, I reached for his hand, our fingers intertwining as we walked up the drive-way. The smooth slide against each other until they fell into place. Like a key meeting its lock.

  It felt good.

  But scary.

  I brushed away any remaining tears when we got in sight of Rickets’ House, and there was no Veronica Teedz wasn’t there to welcome us like last time.

  Thank God.

  There were quite a few people, but none I recognized.

  As we entered the house, I tried to loosen my fingers, but Tray simply tightened his grasp so our hands stayed intertwined.

  Like before, Tray led the way into the kitchen. He purchased two cups and passed one to me. Then we moved back through. This time I didn’t need to separate; I wasn’t there for business. So I got to see how many people knew Tray.

  Which was a lot. An annoying amount, because he couldn’t take two steps without someone rushing over to talk to him or pounding him on the shoulder.

  It was fricking irritating.

  By the twelfth person—yes—twelve!—I pulled away and remarked, “I’m going to go look for Mandy.” I hope to hell no more ‘Devon’s-cheating-on-me’ drama would come up tonight. It shouldn’t, the guy wasn’t even in the same region as us, but you never know. It’s one of the exasperating powers of technology. It didn’t limit drama to your location, drama and chaos was widespread.

  I don’t think Tray even noticed that I’d left. Whatever.

  I moved through the first floor, down the hallway, heading towards the patio area. As I weaved around a group leaving, I saw that Crystal, Mandy, and most of the group had taken residence on the patio. I recognized a few students from Pedlam on the opposite corner, but no Gentley and more importantly, no Grayley; therefore, no Brian. At this rate, I didn’t know who I wanted to see least—Grayley or Brian. It was a sad day in hell that I’d take being around Gentley over the other two.

  A sad day in hell.

  “Hey, Taryn,” Mandy called out, sitting next to Tristan, who had Erin on the other side of her. Tristan took time out of a conversation with Brent Garrett—Amber’s staked claim—to send a smile my way.

  Erin waved, then flipped her blonde hair over her shoulder and tuned back into Tristan’s conversation.

  Crystal stood in the back, in a corner with Aidrian Casners and one other girl—probably another senior.

  Aidrian glared at me, but it didn’t hold the animosity from before. She was probably still waiting to see if I’d come through with the tickets.

  Crystal sent a smile my way, her eyes questioning.

  I shrugged and sat beside Mandy.

  “Were you guys having sex? Is that why it took you so freaking long to get in here?” Mandy teased, flashing a blinding smile.

  “Not exactly,” I murmured, stifling a yawn. Seriously—emotional upheaval really took it out of you. You’re supposed to sleep after a crying fit. Not party. It’s why the phrase says, ‘cried myself to

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