The original crowd, p.40
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       The Original Crowd, p.40
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         Part #0.5 of A Whole New Crowd series by Tijan

  “I don’t need your protection,” I cried out.

  “Yeah,” Brian said shortly, “you do. You’ve always needed it.”

  “Oh please!” I was so pissed, but I was reasonable enough to realize a lot of what I was feeling was from past shit. History that had never been resolved. “You’re a moron, Brian!”

  “I’m a moron?!” He laughed angrily. “You fucking screwed my brother. That’s a moron. You’re a moron for doing that.”

  “Oh no,” I started, “you screwed Liza and that other girl. You started it.”

  Neither of us noticed Grayley until he was suddenly in between us and pushing us apart. I blinked, startled that Brian and I had slowly stalked towards each other. We’d been in each other’s face, yelling.

  I saw Tray and Gentley watching. Gentley looked amused. Tray looked—I didn’t want to name what I saw in his hazel eyes.

  “Shut the fuck up, both of you!” Grayley shouted. He stood in front of Brian, facing me. “You should leave, Taryn.”

  “Me? You should leave!”

  “Rickets’ is our territory. It always has been,” he reasoned, watching Tray cautiously.

  What the hell? I knew why Gentley tiptoed around Tray, but…Grayley, too? And Brian hadn’t said a word to him. This was not the Brian and Grayley I knew.

  Contrary to recent events, Grayley was not one to look for a fight; he avoided them at all costs.

  But Brian—if a fight was brewing, Brian would be the one to flick the spark.

  He loved fighting. He reveled in it.

  And Brian was purposely not getting in Tray’s face. Yeah, the last time at the hospital—probably wasn’t the place to have a fight. But he wasn’t moving now, at all, he wasn’t even looking at Tray.

  Which told me—it all clicked—and I gasped, reeling backwards.

  Brian knew about Tray.

  Brian was working for Galverson. Geezer had said his dad didn’t work for Brian, he worked for the new crew. He ‘sorta’ didn’t work for Brian. So that meant Brian was working for Galverson.

  And I’m just stupid for not connecting all the dots until now.

  Brian would never work for Jace, but he’d compete with him. And that meant business with Galverson.

  And Grayley—Grayley was Brian’s brains. Grayley knew…everything.

  But, Grayley wasn’t one to get involved in the drug business. And whatever else they were running…

  I suddenly felt sick to my stomach.

  “You’re working for Galverson,” I whispered hoarsely.” My eyes on Brian, I saw him suddenly pale, hearing me.

  “Shut up,” Grayley hissed.

  I continued anyway, “And you got that bracelet from wherever his storage it. You stole it for me.”

  Grayley rounded on me, shoving Brian away with his back. Grayley grasped my shoulders, his eyes trailing to Tray’s over my head. “Taryn. Shut. Up.” he said firmly, harshly. “You have to shut up and leave this alone! Leave. It. Alone, for your own goddamn good.”

  I was still staring, in horror, at Brian.

  I saw regret flash in the depths of his eyes. I saw remorse…and…fear.

  “Brian—” I managed out, unable to speak.

  “Taryn—” He was shoved back by Grayley again.

  Suddenly, I felt familiar hands at my back. Tray.

  He wrapped an arm around my waist, and stepped beside me. “You can move.”

  I don’t know what look was shared, but Grayley and Brian both instinctually stepped back, after taking one look in Tray’s eyes.

  “I’m done. We can go,” he spoke again and it took a second to realize he was talking to me.

  “What?” I choked out.

  “We’re going. You got everything?”

  “Yeah—” I was lost, stumbling. “Uh…my stuff’s at your place.”

  We were already off the porch and heading to his vehicle. I was still in shock. “Oh my God.”

  When we got to the SUV, Tray walked me to the passenger side and opened the door. I crawled inside and curled up in the seat as Tray got into his side, but he didn’t start the engine. He sat and looked at me.

  I broke out, “What if they know? What if…they know what Jace did to me? What if…oh God…what did they do to me? What did Jace do?”

  Tray remained silent.

  “They all lied to me,” I cried out. “They all…I hate ‘em. I hate ‘em. They all—”

  “For what it’s worth,” Tray murmured, watching me steadily, “I don’t think they had anything to do with it.”

  “What? How can you…?”

  “Because I’m on the outside looking in, and I know how guys like Lanser and Galverson think,” he replied. “They don’t share their secrets. Ever. Whatever Lanser did that involved you, it’s extremely unlikely that he shared the info with your friends, even his little brother. Guys make it to the top because they keep everything close to their chest.”

  “I never said anything about—” I started, confused.

  “You didn’t have to, Taryn. It’s written all over your face. When one lie is found out, a person starts wondering what other lies were told and how many of ‘em involve you. That’s what you’re scared of. You’re scared that your best friends turned on you, but I don’t think that’s it. It doesn’t make any sense.”

  I’d fallen silent, shocked at hearing him think out loud. Even in my state, I was a little unsettled at how intelligent Tray is.

  “No, my guess is that they found out something and they’re trying to protect you against it. I don’t think they know how you’re involved though.”

  “But—”

  Tray shook his head then continued, “And it might not even have anything to do with you. I mean, yeah—maybe. But you’re not exactly a person who just accepts whatever you’re told. If you’re pissed off, you go after whoever pissed you off. You’re a fighter and you’re virtually impossible from keeping out of shit.” He paused. “Maybe that’s it. Maybe they don’t want you to find out something, to look for something, that’d land you with Galverson. It all goes to Galverson. It makes sense. Your friends are worried that you’ll find out what’s going on and you almost already have. You’re a thief. You hate not knowing shit, so you find a way to get at it. Which is what you would do if something was going on that you didn’t like.”

  Oh my God. That made perfect sense.

  Which meant Brian and Grayley hadn’t betrayed me.

  “I agree with ‘em,” he stated, meeting my eyes. “You told me you’d leave it alone.”

  And I had, I’d already made the decision.

  Even I wasn’t so out of touch with reality to think I could take on Galverson alone. And Tray was right, Galverson wouldn’t go after me. He’d go after Geezer, Brian, and Grayley first, then Mandy, Austin, Shelley, Kevin.

  My family.

  “I will.” I said sincerely. For the first time in awhile, I was scared.

  “I will,” I said it again, a whisper to myself.

  Tray sighed and leaned over, he tucked a strand of hair behind my ear, his fingers lingering on my cheek, then my lips.

  I grinned, feeling myself melt. Again—it was inevitable.

  I took his finger in my mouth, and licked it, swirling my tongue around it.

  Tray groaned in shock.

  I laughed. I covered the distance and kissed him deeply. Wanting to forget, wanting to remember who was with me, who I had in my life now. Tray answered me back, our hands in each other’s hair, holding each other tight as we tasted each other. Sensually. Needy.

  Tray lifted me onto his lap, where he devoured me some more. I devoured right back and melted against him.

  “Let’s go home,” I whispered, not realizing I’d called Rawley home.

  Groaning, Tray kissed me a last time before setting me back on my side.

  He started the vehicle and pulled out, as we circled to the front of Rickets’ House, I saw Brian sitting on the porch. Alone.

  There was something I
needed to do.

  “Wait,” I broke out.

  Tray braked and looked up at the porch. I saw the understanding in his eyes when he met my gaze.

  “Thank you,” I mouthed silently, getting out of the vehicle.

  Brian was looking at me when I crossed to the porch. He stood up just as I stepped to where he sat.

  “Hey,” I said softly, remembering the little boy I’d fell in love with. And seeing a faint shadow in the boy before me, merging with the reflection of manhood.

  Brian had changed. I knew that, I just hadn’t wanted to accept it.

  “Hey,” he breathed out, absorbing me.

  We both knew.

  It was time.

  “I’m…I’m going to leave it alone. Whatever Jace, whatever arrangements he made for me. I want you to know—I’m leaving it alone.” I said first, rushed. I wanted it out there between us. He had to know.

  “I didn’t beat up Geezer,” he spoke, glancing where Tray was parked. “You gotta know that. I don’t want you to think I’d do that.”

  “I know,” I murmured. “Now.”

  “Good.” He looked relieved, and he was. I knew him, still. I knew that look. And the knowledge brought a smile to my face.

  I still knew him, who stood before me.

  A part of my history. But no longer my present.

  “Look,” he started, “I don’t know about that Evans guy, but keep a good twist on his balls. Like you did with me.”

  That brought a grin to my face.

  Brian the poet, he was not.

  “I still love you,” I announced abruptly.

  Brian’s eyes whirled to mine, startled, but not surprised.

  I added, “I still love you, but—”

  “I know.” He nodded, shifting in place. “You’re in a better place now. Which is good. You deserve it.”

  “Brian.”

  “You got a good family. That’s a good house you live in now. And there aren’t any Lansers in Rawley, that’s gotta be a good thing. It just took me awhile to accept it, you know. But I get it now.

  “Brian,” I murmured, stepping closer, “I loved you. Not Jace.”

  He grinned, the look stabbing me in the heart. “No, you didn’t.” He let out a deep breath. “You loved him, you just never did anything about it.”

  He raised a hand, brushing a tear from my cheek.

  “I loved you,” I whispered. “Jace was just—”

  Brian shook his head. “You loved Jace. I know that—now. I knew it then, I just…didn’t want to admit it.”

  “Brian, don’t.” I brushed some more tears away. Fucking tears—a nuisance all the damn time. “Don’t…okay.”

  He flicked away his own tear and then pulled me into his arms. Resting his chin on top of my head, he murmured, “I love you too. I’ll fucking be here, loving you until I die.”

  I wrapped my arms around him and sighed. Resting into him, feeling the warmth of his embrace once more. This had been my home—in his arms, for so many years.

  He’d been my rock. He’d just never intended to be.

  And it all started back when he tried to brush me off in the fourth grade. And I’d ‘twisted his balls.’ We were Bonnie and Clyde. We thought we ruled our fucking school and town. And we’d been right. We had ruled. But that part of our lives was over.

  I pulled away and looked up at him. “Whatever I felt for Jace—it was you. Okay. It was you.”

  He couldn’t say anymore. I saw it.

  So I stood on my tiptoes and kissed him one last time—a tender kiss goodbye.

  Then I pulled back and walked away from him, leaving the only home I knew behind.

  CHAPTER SEVENTEEN

  It started to rain again. . And it totally fit my mood.

  Tray and I didn’t talk as we drove back. It was a good silence, a comfortable silence. And I didn’t stop to let myself get scared. I couldn’t, not right then. Not after saying goodbye to Brian.

  When we pulled into his driveway, it was eerily empty. As we walked into the main house, and into the kitchen, our footsteps on the tile was deafening.

  Tray went first to the fridge and pulled out some food. Pizza—what else? As he heated it up, he jumped on the counter and looked at me.

  “What?” My voice was hoarse and painful.

  He just watched me, without saying a word.

  The microwave alarm rang and he jumped back off, putting his pizza on a plate. Grabbing my hand he pulled me out onto the back patio, where I’d found his friends this afternoon when I first arrived.

  It was beautiful. Sitting there with the rain coming down on the glass that encased every wall except the open wall that connected to the house. Tray sat and ate while I pulled a chair up beside him and curled my knees against my chest. I sighed, resting my cheek on my knee as I looked sideways to Tray.

  “When was the last time you saw your brother?”

  Tray frowned slightly, I saw he was a little surprised by my question. “When I told him I wasn’t helping him against Dad,” he said smoothly.”

  “What was that like?”

  “It was rough,” he replied.

  “Did you get to say goodbye to him?”

  Tray let out a brusque laugh. “Fuck no. Chance beat the shit out of me and then took off after telling me he didn’t want anything to do with me. Dad screwed our family up and I was supposed to pick sides. Dad never got along with Chance anyway, even when I was little. I don’t remember a lot about their relationship. But I do remember them fighting, all the time.”

  “What about your mom?”

  “Mom was…she was always quiet. Not really all there, you know. I think she was just scared.”

  “Of your dad?”

  “Ah, hell no. Dad wouldn’t do a thing to harm her, at least not in the beginning. Towards the end, when Galverson got him hooked on drugs, yeah, she might’ve been scared then. I don’t know. I just think she didn’t know what to do with Chance and Dad. They both liked to have us pick sides.”

  “How old is he?”

  “He’s my half-brother, from Dad’s first marriage. He’s fifteen years older than me. So he’d be thirty-two now. He joined the DEA when he was twenty-six.” Tray chuckled. “Yeah, Chance always wanted to top whatever Dad did. Drugs were so rampant around here and that was Dad’s focus as chief of police; he was successful in cleaning up Rawley and received a lot commendations for it. I think that’s why Chance chose the DEA over the FBI or any other agency—so he could outshine Dad.”

  “What about your dad?” I asked softly. Hearing the bitterness in his voice, I couldn’t tell who or what his anger was at specifically—his dad, his mom, his brother, or just the whole situation.

 
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