The original crowd, p.42
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       The Original Crowd, p.42

         Part #0.5 of A Whole New Crowd series by Tijan
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  I went downstairs and went to the pool house. When I got onto the patio, I stopped in shock. I could hear pounding sounds coming from the storage shed he ran into.

  I wanted to go see, but instead I moved into the pool house. I showered and changed into some new clothes. I pulled my cell charger out of my bag and plugged it in. Then I remembered Tray’s phone. I went back into the house, still hearing the sounds, and found his cell in the bedroom. After I plugged it into its charger in the pool house, I stood uncertainly in the doorway.

  He was still in the storage shed.

  I finally gave into temptation and moved to the door. There weren’t any windows, so I had to open the door to see inside.

  Inside was a punching bag, and Tray had stripped down to his waist. He was beating the shit out of that bag. Every now and then, he’d rear back for a hard uppercut. I caught a glimpse of his knuckles. They were bleeding.

  I crossed to him, and readied myself for what I was about to do. When I reached out and grabbed his arms from behind, I held on.

  “Stop,” I spoke, gritting my teeth.

  “Get off me,” Tray snapped, trying to shrug me off.

  I held on.

  “Stop it,” I bit out again, starting to get pissed.

  “Taryn,” he warned, “I gave you space when you needed it.”

  “Yeah, well, that was when we were just screwing each other. We did not screw last night and we haven’t been doing that for a while.”

  “Shut up,” he replied harshly.

  “Stop it. You’re starting to scare me.” He wasn’t, but I wanted him to stop, so I lied.

  “Taryn,” Tray cursed at me.

  “This is not cathartic. This just makes it worse.”

  “Says who?” Now he’d turned to infantile arguments.

  I shot back, “Says our psych teacher.”

  I was right and we both knew it.

  “Get off me.” He finally managed to shove me away, but he didn’t go back to trying to murder the bag. He glared at me and stated, “I’m not talking about it. Not yet.”

  “Fine. But stop that stupid shit. It doesn’t help.” I gestured to the bag. “And we are talking when you calm down.”

  “I don’t want to hear about you saying ‘goodbye’ to your ex,” he threw back.

  I wasn’t really keen on talking about Brian with him either.

  “Fine.”

  “Fine.”

  Tray swore, sighed, and then grumbled, “Since when do we talk?”

  “Since I’m admitting that we’re in an actual relationship. And we are,” I said firmly, seeing him roll his eyes. But he didn’t argue.

  “I’m going to take a shower,” Tray remarked, rolling his shoulders.

  *

  I went to the kitchen to make some coffee. Hunting around the shelves, in the vicinity of where you would put the coffee pot, I cursed as my eyes fell on the sale-tag that was still on the coffee pot. Who buys a coffee machine and doesn’t use it?

  When the doorbell rang, I jumped.

  When it peeled again, I looked behind me, helpless. Like Tray was going to materialize suddenly. But he didn’t. He was still showering, or changing. Not there, which is where I needed him.

  After the third time, a hand pounded on the door. I moved to the foyer and paused, still terrified. Who could blame me?

  “Come on, come on, come on. I know you’re in there.” That definitely did not sound like Jace or Galverson.

  I blew out a breath of relief and opened the door.

  Mandy breezed past me.

  Following her into the kitchen, I heard her say, without preamble, “Everyone’s skipping today. I couldn’t believe it. I thought I’d be a good daughter, you know, like you were the other day, and boy do I regret that now. I actually went to school this morning and had, like, four people in class. Seriously. One of them was your friend Molly what’s-her-face. She asked where you were, by the way, and I told her you were probably here. You and Tray left early last night. I saw that Gentley guy and your ex. I figured that was why you guys escaped.”

  Mandy opened the fridge and pulled out some bagels and cream cheese.

  “Where’s Tray?”

  “Showering.”

  Wait.

  “Does that mean everyone’s coming over?” I asked, slightly alarmed.

  “Well, yeah.” Mandy shrugged, spreading cream cheese on her bagel. “It’s what we do, especially when we skip. Duh.”

  “It’s…oh…this isn’t a good time.”

  “What do you mean?” Mandy grabbed the juice next, pouring herself a cup. “You want a cup?”

  “No. I want…” I was at a loss for words. I got the feeling Mandy was just the warm-up. In about an hour, this place would be full of people.

  When wasn’t there?

  “Oh,” Mandy exclaimed, “Casners is looking for you. She’s got a beef with you or something. I would too after what you did last night. Thanks, Tristan was a treat the rest of the night. In between her make-out sessions with Garrett, that is.”

  I had her tickets. No way was she going to pick a fight with me.

  “What are you talking about?” I was tired. I’d been scared shitless this morning, for my life and Tray’s, so sue me if I wasn’t following along with this conversation.

  “You know, her and Tristan. They’re, like, mortal enemies, by the way. Good job.”

  “Oh.” That’s right.

  “Tristan still has no clue, though. No one’s had the heart to tell her why Casners went after her last night.”

  I was having a hard time caring.

  “Oh.” Should I ask and pretend to care? “What happened?”

  “You mean, who did Brent Garrett go home with last night?” Mandy was too energetic this morning. “He went home with Tristan. I just said they were making out the rest of the night. Aidrian Casners hates her. Although I think Tristan was really doing it to get at Amber. Those two cannot stand each other. I’ve never really figured out why.”

  “Because Amber thinks Tristan is psychotic and thinks she’s the only person you can be best friends with. Oh, and because she thinks her and Tray have a star-crossed lover thing going on,” I rambled, stating word for word—or close enough to Amber’s statement.

  Mandy gaped in shock. “What?”

  “It’s what I heard.” I had officially became part of the gossip mill. Not a subject in the gossip mill, but an actual participant in the mill.

  I needed to escape.

  “I’ll be back. Just…make some coffee,” I instructed my sister, hightailing it out of there to the pool house.

  Tray was pulling a shirt on when I rushed in and laid on the bed.

  “We’re a pair, aren’t we?” Tray mused, sitting beside me on the bed and bending to grab some shoes.

  “Mmmm,” I mumbled into his pillow.

  Tray didn’t reply.

  I rolled onto my back and asked, “Why does your place have to be the hang-out when everyone skips? People just show up here. Randomly. Like last night, they had a party when we were in here.”

  Tray shrugged. “I’ve lived alone this whole time. I like it when people show up.” He flexed his knuckles, hissing in pain.

  I sat back on my knees, crawling to sit beside him. I reached for his hands and gently inspected his knuckles. They were still open, raw, and bleeding.

  Probably a good metaphor for Tray and me.

  He grew still, in pain, as I looked closely at the sores.

  “You need to disinfect these,” I murmured.

  “I have a first-aid kit in the house,” he murmured, leaning closer to me.

  I looked up and met his gaze. He was looking at me, intensely.

  “So we’re in a relationship, huh?”

  “Yeah,” I whispered, studying him, looking for any reaction.

  He was doing the same to me.

  “Good,” he whispered, leaning to kiss me. I grinned against his mouth and kissed him back.
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  “That means we talk. I’m not in a relationship where we don’t talk,” I clarified as I pulled away. I meant it, too. Brian and I hadn’t always talked out our issues, and I hated it.

  “I can do that.” He kissed me again.

  “We’re talking about this morning.”

  “Do we have to talk about last night?”

  “Me and Brian?”

  “Yeah.” He sounded like he was in pain. He probably was.

  “No. Brian and I said goodbye last night. That was it, the end.”

  “I figured. You kissed him and everything.”

  “You knew what I was going to do—”

  “Yeah, I did.” He kissed me again. “It’s why I stayed in the car.”

  “But we’re talking about—”

  “I know.” Tray sighed, pushing me down and laying on top of me. He kissed me. “I know. I know. I know. We’ll talk, just not now.”

  I tipped my head back, enjoying the feel of his lips on my neck. I slid a hand up his back, one of my legs moved to circle his and I slid my foot up and down.

  A knock at the door stopped anything else.

  Mandy called, “I know what you guys are probably doing, and…stop it. People are showing up and the two of you are becoming rabbits. I don’t want my sister to be known as a sex bunny.”

  “That would make me a playmate,” I murmured against Tray’s lips.

  He grinned. “You definitely look the part.” He kissed me again and then sat up. “Can we bandage these? Before more people come over.”

  “Yeah.” I let him help me up. “Lead on, Sir Ass Face.” I stood on the bed and jumped on his back, laughing.

  Tray stopped. “I thought he was calling Gentley that.” His hands coming around my knees, anchoring me in place.

  “He was.” I grinned, laughing. “I just think it’s a funny name. It’s like a face on your ass. A nose on your ass. And imagine what you would see with your eyes on your ass.”

  “You could kiss my face,” Tray retorted.

  That brought a smile to my face. “I do.”

  He knelt and let me off just as we got to the main house.

  Entering the kitchen, we saw that it had been raided. And the number of people had multiplied. Mandy was now being kept company by Grant, Amber, and Tristan, the usual crowd minus Devon, Bryce, and Carter.

  “Morning,” Tray greeted everyone, pulling out the first-aid kit from one of the shelves.

  “Dude,” Grant breathed out, “what the hell did you do?”

  “I beat up a wall,” Tray replied, shooting him a cocky grin.

  “Seriously—” Tristan started, scooting closer.

  “Seriously.” Tray stopped her in her place. “It’s none of your fucking business.” Well, that’s settled.

  Grant chuckled. “I remember when I used to beat up walls.”

  “Now you just walk into them.” Amber grinned at her brother.

  “That’s hilarious,” Tristan said dryly, rolling her eyes.

  Ooh. The embodiment of class from the night before was just replaced by a haughty bitch? I thought I was the only bitch in this crowd.

  This was turning into a whole new crowd.

  Did this mean…wait…was I the nice one? Oh, fuck no.

  “You’re hilarious,” I shot at her, grabbing the disinfectant and Tray’s hand. “Your little show last night.”

  Tristan glanced at Amber from underneath her eyelids. But Amber saw it. So did I. I grinned. “Isn’t that why you hooked up with Garrett? To piss Amber off?” I made my final decision about Tristan: I didn’t like her.

  “What?” Amber hissed. “You slept with Brent Garrett?”

  I half-listened as I bent over Tray’s hand and swabbed at the sores. His hand flinched a few times, but he didn’t make a sound. I glanced up at him once and saw he had his poker face on.

  I quickly finished, bandaging him up swiftly.

  When I finished, I rubbed my thumb over them one last time. I looked up and Tray was watching me. A faint grin pulling at the corners of his lips. His plump, luscious lips…

  “Taryn,” Tristan said.

  “Yes,” I replied, a little breathless.

  “Can I talk to you?”

  “No.” It was another automatic response. I was still trying to catch my breath. “Why?” I frowned, catching on.

  “I want to talk to you about something. In private,” she stressed, leading the way into the hallway.

  I followed her reluctantly and found myself in a room I hadn’t been in before.

  Tristan whirled around and shut the door. She crossed her arms and stared at me, looking pissed off.

  “What?” I surrendered, slinking onto the seat of one of the couches. It was kind of a…living room. I think this is the third one I’ve been in.

  “What do you have against me?” Tristan asked, demanding.

  “What are you talking about?” It was a petty game, but I was willing to play it, with her, at least. It just got her angrier.

  “Last night. You sicced Aidrian Casners on me, I know. Erin told me all about Amber, Aidrian, and Brent. And this morning, with Amber just now. Why don’t you like me?”

  “Because you were a bitch to Mandy yesterday at the house. You were purposely manipulating her. It pissed me off.”

  She fell silent.

  “And because you’re just…off. There’s something about you. I don’t know what it is, but you’re just…off.”

  “You don’t like me because something’s ‘off’ with me?” Tristan asked incredulously.

  “Yeah.” It made perfect sense to me.

  “I…that’s not fair. It’s just not…logical,” she cried out.

  “You have your logic and I have mine. I’m sticking to mine,” I retorted.

  Tristan looked flabbergasted. I liked that word—flabbergasted—it’s a good word.

  I grinned, rocking on my heels. “Anything else?”

  “I was hoping we could be friends. Mandy’s one of my best friends and I’m transferring to Rawley High next week. I’m going to be around a lot more.”

  I laughed. “Trust me. I’d be in a shit load of trouble if I had to like all of Mandy’s friends.”

  “I don’t think you’re taking this seriously,” she began stiffly.

  I laughed again and rolled my eyes. “What do you want me to take serious? I don’t trust you. Generally, people who I don’t feel I can trust, end up people I don’t like. I’m not going to change my mind. I can handle you being Mandy’s friend. Don’t worry, I don’t like Amber, Jasmine or Devon.”

  “But, I—” she argued, at a loss for words.

  “If you really want to be friends with me, just be nice to
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