The original crowd, p.45
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       The Original Crowd, p.45

         Part #0.5 of A Whole New Crowd series by Tijan
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  off that it took me longer than it should have.”

  “Jenkins,” he finally spat out, “Mark Jenkins.”

  The name was familiar, but I couldn’t place it.

  “Run,” I taunted coldly, furious.

  He took one last look at me and then left; at first at a casual pace, and then—he ran.

  I turned, slowly, and saw my sister laughing and bouncing up and down. She was grinning at whatever Tristan had just said. I watched as she picked up her phone and looked at it. A small frown appeared on her face, but it was gone as quickly as it appeared, her mask firmly in place, looking perfect.

  CHAPTER NINETEEN

  Tray was still on the dock, thank God, when I got to him. He was sitting behind the steering wheel, grinning at whatever Grant had just said.

  I was furious and everyone was a target right now.

  Seeing me, one of the guys cleared his throat and nodded in my direction.

  Tray glanced behind him, and the laughter halted.

  He stood up. “Hey—” he trailed off, his eyes widening at the barely controlled rage written across my face.

  “I need your keys.” I stuck my hand out, knowing he was going to ask, knowing he saw what was inside of me, but not caring.

  “What?”

  “I need your keys. Right now.” Fucking duh.

  “What’s going on?” he asked cautiously, reaching for his back pocket.

  “Just give me your keys,” I repeated. I stamped all of my emotions down so I wouldn’t blow up—this was not the time or place.

  He held them up slowly. “What’s going on?” he asked, studying me intently.

  I snatched them up.

  “What about our rule?” Tray demanded. He kept a hold of the keys. I tried to yank them away, but he held on to them tightly.

  “You said later. With your stuff…you said later,” I reminded him, unyielding. “I need that now,” I said tightly, wrenching the keys out of his grasp. I immediately turned to leave, walking back down the dock.

  “Taryn,” he called after me, but I ignored him. I circled around their table. I could hear Mandy’s laugh, but I didn’t dare look at her as I passed.

  I quickly crossed to where Tray had parked and got inside. Staring the engine, I peeled out of there. It didn’t take long to get to my house. I was braking to a halt moments later outside my house.

  I left the keys dangling in the car and ran inside.

  Realizing I left my keys at Sers, I ran around to the first floor bathroom window and propped it open. The only sound I could hear was the pounding of my heart.

  I hauled my body up and crawled inside.

  When my feet touched the floor, I choked back a sob. I stumbled through the doorway and up the stairs. I ran, sprinted to Mandy’s room.

  In the doorway, her perfect doorway, I froze in place. My horrified gaze took everything in. Everything was labeled and put in its perfect place. Everything.

  Her clothes were color-coordinated. Separated from denim for the summer and denim for the winter. Her desk was pristine, actually sparkling when the sunlight caught on it. And her pictures were perfectly aligned.

  Then I hauled off and looked through everything. Everything.

  I couldn’t hear anything. If anyone had walked or rang the doorbell—nothing. My heart was pounding in my eardrums, deafening me. I felt like there was fucking elephant was standing on my chest as I frantically tore into her desk, looking through papers, files. Anything and everything.

  I looked in her jewelry box. Her nightstand, a little box that was on there. The dresser drawers. Underneath her bed. The window frame. I even lifted up her curtain rod and looked inside.

  I checked the door, behind the door, just on top of its frame. I checked the venting shafts. Even behind a framed picture that hung on her wall. Behind her posters.

  Nothing.

  Fucking nothing.

  An hour later, still nothing.

  I spied her Kleenex box. And I tore it open and in the corner, and found one small bag of Vitamin R.

  Fucking uppers.

  But she owed five grand—there was no way that this little bag equaled five grand.

  I flipped the bed mattress up and saw one of the corners was slightly ripped. Jamming my fingers inside it, I found another little bag.

  Then I looked around again, I walked into her bathroom that was connected to her bedroom.

  I stood on the toilet and ran my hands along the top of the wall cabinets, the highest to the ceiling, and found a box full of Vitamin R. A whole fucking box stuffed with baggies, all filled with pills. And one by one, I dumped them into the toilet.

  It took me an hour. A whole fucking hour.

  I told myself to breathe. In and out. Just breathe. But the energy was wrenched from me. I felt like I’d hurdled off the side of a cliff.

  When I was done, I stumbled to my bedroom and curled on my bed. My arms wrapped around my knees, curled in the fetal position.

  That was how Tray found me. I didn’t know how long I laid there like that. Frozen.

  “Hey,” he said softly, sitting next to me on the bed. I flinched when he tentatively touched me.

  “How’d you get here?” I asked. I didn’t know what else to say.

  “Carter showed up. I had him drop me off here.”

  “Was Mandy there?”

  “Yeah…why?” He frowned, his hand resting on mine.

  “Because—”

  “Because why?”

  “Her drug dealer came up to me and wanted me to pass a message to her for him,” I bit out, starting to seethe inside again.

  “What?” Tray froze, the small circle his thumb had been moving in stopped. “What did you say?”

  “Mark Jenkins. That’s his name,” I bit out bitterly.

  I realized that Tray still hadn’t said anything.

  I scrambled to a sitting position. “Do you know him?”

  “Yeah,” he said slowly, not looking at me.

  “Do you know who he works for?”

  “Yeah.”

  “Who?”

  “No, Taryn. You’re not getting involved in it. I’ll handle it.”

  “Fuck that.” I got up, standing in front of him. “She’s my sister. I do not want my sister on drugs.”

  “How much did she have?”

  “Enough to be dealing ‘em herself,” I said swiftly. “It took me an hour just to flush ‘em all.”

  “What was she on?”

  “An upper.”

  “Which one?”

  “Vitamin R. Methyl—whatever the fuck it is. Ritalin shit,” I snapped, raking both my hands through my hair.

  “Okay.” He stood up and moved to leave.

  I grabbed his hand. “Oh no. You’re not doing this without me.”

  “I don’t want you involved.” Tray tried to shrug me off.

  “No!”

  “Taryn,” he argued, walking down the stairs.

  “No!” I shouted, jumping past him to block his way. “I hate drugs. You have no idea how much I hate those things. I really…really…detest them.”

  “I know!” he cried out. “How do you think I feel?”

  “Oh,” I yelled back, “like steroids are any different!”

  Tray grew still and his body went rigid at that. I saw his jaw clench and spasm.

  “You and I both know it—they’re the same thing,” I pressed, uncaring that I was crossing a line.

  “They don’t have the same effects.”

  “Bullshit,” I swore.

  “They’re not the same.”

  “Yes, they are, Tray. And you tap that market…you do it because a part of you likes to get away with it. You do it because it keeps you connected to that life,” I goaded, unheeding the warning that flashed in his eyes.

  “That’s fucking bullshit,” he said slowly, dangerously.

  “Then prove me wrong and stop selling them.”

  “Like you’re any better,” he shot back.
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  “I’m trying to stop,” I yelled. “You’re not.”

  “Well, I’m stopping this Jenkins piece of shit.”

  “It won’t help, not in the long run,” I reasoned.

  “You don’t understand it, Taryn. You have no clue,” Tray cried out. “If Rawley doesn’t have something going on, then it’ll get flooded by something else. It’ll be designated as ‘open’ and that means we’ll have so much fucking drugs here, it’s not going to matter. So yeah, I keep the steroid business going just so that we’re viewed as vulnerable and open. Some dealers aren’t that organized, but some are. Some are! They send hunters out. Those guys’ main purpose is to find cities that can be infiltrated. I’ve avoided that so far, but I can’t do it forever. But yeah, if steroids help cover us, then fine. Sign me up.”

  I didn’t want to admit it, but it did make a little sense.

  “Just,” I said, the fight leaving me, “let Jenkins know that he messed up.”

  It was all he needed to hear, because he was gone as soon as the words left my mouth.

  I heard him peel out of the driveway a second later.

  I stayed frozen for a moment and then cursed. I was still in my bikini. I had left my purse at Sers, with my cellphone inside. And my car was at Tray’s.

  I was stranded, in my own home.

  *

  As one of my lessons of survival, I learned to stay away from drugs. They were like locusts. They were everywhere, presented as candy. The truth: they were poison.

  Drugs had the power to take families away; they just ripped through them and left them in pieces. I’ve witnessed it many times in families that I’ve been placed in, but most recently, with Brian.

  When he used, I’d bathe him and clean up his vomit. And I took him to rehab. I had to take him four times, until it finally stuck.

  I’ve done a lot of bad stuff, even since I moved in with the Matthews—when I had taken their name.

  But there’s one thing I want, without a doubt: to stay in this family.

  And so that was why I was in Mandy’s room, packing her bags.

  Three hours later, I heard voices, so I grabbed her bags and took ‘em downstairs. This didn’t need to be a drawn-out process.

  They were in the kitchen, laughing, when I set them at the end of the stairs. I looked up and met Mandy’s gaze.

  “What are you doing? Those are my bags,” Mandy asked, confused, reaching to fill a glass with water.

  “Oh! She packed for you,” Jasmine murmured, sounding touched. “That’s sweet of your sister.”

  “Taryn, you didn’t have to do that. Really. Now I’m going to have to repack whatever you put in there.”

  I still hadn’t said anything, my eyes were flat and void of emotion.

  Mandy misunderstood my look. “Seriously, Taryn. The cheerleaders’ bus leaves early, but I’ll have time to do it tonight.”

  “Why’d you take off?” Tristan asked, sitting at the kitchen table, curving her legs gracefully underneath her, a glass of ice water in front of her.

  “Yeah, no doubt,” Mandy remarked, pulling out a Diet Coke. “You left all your stuff with me. It’s on the table, by the way. But seriously, you took off and then Tray took off.”

  “You guys have a fight?” Tristan asked, not sounding sorry.

  I took a deep breath and said quietly, somber, “Tell ‘em to leave, Mandy.”

  “What?” She laughed, reaching for a glass.

  “Tell your friends to leave. Now.”

  “Ookay,” she joked, “what are you on?”

  “Mark Jenkins,” I announced, seeing Mandy freeze in place. I added, “Tell ‘em to leave.”

  Her eyes moved from me, to the luggage and then to her friends.

  “Tell. Them. To. Leave,” I ordered.

  “Seriously, you can be such a bitch.” Jasmine laughed, sitting opposite Tristan. “It’s kind of getting funny.”

  “Mandy,” I barked.

  “Uh,” she said weakly, “I’ll see you guys tomorrow. Why don’t you guys—”

  “Go?” Tristan finished, looking dismayed. “Are you serious?”

  “Yeah, she is,” I clipped out, looking at the door pointedly. “Thanks for driving her home.”

  “Holy shit, you are a real class act,” Tristan muttered underneath her breath, standing. Rolling her eyes, she followed everyone else out.

  Mandy hesitated in the doorway, before she closed it and looked at me. Her eyes shifted to the bags at my feet.

  I kicked ‘em and they spilled over.

  “These are yours,” I exclaimed. “We’re leaving for rehab. Right now.”

  Mandy laughed, shaking her head. “Oh no, oh no, no, no, no. I’m not. I’m not going anywhere.”

  “You are,” I said again firmly, “and you’re going tonight.”

  “No.”

  “You’re addicted. You had enough of it upstairs to sell ‘em yourself.”

  “No,” she said again, shaking her head, frozen in place.

  “I’m a pro at this, Mandy. I’m not going to listen to your cries, to your begs, or to your pleas. I’m done. I’ve been there, done that, and I’m not going back. You’re going to rehab. Tonight.”

  My eyes held my promise.

  I closed my eyes for a second, flinching as I remembered his voice, begging me not to take him.

  “Let’s go.” I cleared my throat, shaking away the memories.

  “I’m not going,” Mandy cried out, and I heard the hitch in her voice. She would become hysterical in a second, when the shock wore off and she realized the game was over.

  “It’s just me right now,” I cut off her tirade, “your parents are gone for the next month. Austin won’t have to know. So it’s just me and this won’t go anywhere else, I promise. But you are going. I will not listen to anything, any games, any promises, anything. I’ve heard ‘em all, Mandy. I’ve gone through this before and you’re not going to win. You’re not going to get out of this. If you run out of here, I’ll call the cops.”

  I had no proof. I’d flushed the evidence, but she didn’t know.

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