The original crowd, p.46
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       The Original Crowd, p.46

         Part #0.5 of A Whole New Crowd series by Tijan

  She didn’t need to know.

  “I found all of them. In your Kleenex box. Under your mattress. In your bathroom. I found them all. All five grand worth,” I bit out, my jaw clenching.

  “Do you have any idea?” she started out softly, “any idea what it’s like?”

  “What? The pressure to be perfect?” I shot back, knowing why she’d gone for them. “To be perfect for your family? Your perfect boyfriend? Your perfect scholarship? Student council. Cheerleading. Keeping friends like Amber and Jasmine. Being one of the most popular girls? No. I don’t know what that’s like, but I know what it’s like it try to be perfect.”

  I’d taken every excuse she was going to use.

  “I used to try to be perfect,” I swore, “and it earned me an abusive foster father who’d visit my room at night when I was six.”

  Mandy paled as my words registered.

  “So fuck you. I know what it’s like, but I never turned to drugs. Ever.”

  “I—” Mandy tried.

  “No. We’re going. There is no debate, no give and take in this. You’re going. Now,” I said forcefully, grabbing my purse and her keys.

  I threw the bags at her. She blindly caught one of them, so I grabbed the other two and her elbow. I led her out the door and into her car. Then I got into the driver’s side and started the car.

  I locked the doors and pulled out into the street.

  And that’s when the tears began.

  I wiped mine away, as they silently slid down my face. But I kept on driving. My eyes set fiercely on the road.

  Mandy bawled. Her hands cradling her face, she rocked, back and forth.

  “Oh no. No, no, no, no…” It went on like that for the entire drive. She bawled, and rocked, and bawled some more. And she tried to bargain, she tried to beg, but she saw my face. She remembered what I said, so she started crying some more.

  The drive took forty minutes. I took her to where I always took Brian and was greeted by the same front desk clerk, Patricia. She’s been here each time I’ve brought Brian in. She recognized me and gave me soft, sad smile when she saw who was behind me.

  Mandy wrapped her arms around herself. She’d grabbed a blanket from in her car, and I carried all her bags inside. I dumped them at the desk, but I didn’t say anything. I don’t think I could around the lump in my throat.

  “Hi, Taryn.” She smiled gently, standing up. She gave me the clipboard and pen. “You know the drill.”

  I nodded, my throat choking.

  I shook my head. “She’s my sister,” I managed to say hoarsely.

  “We’ll take care of her,” she murmured tenderly.

  I nodded, my tears blinding me for a moment.

  I looked at Mandy and saw that she was worse than me. She looked like a six year old. Raw. Vulnerable. Exposed.

  My heart broke into a million pieces for her.

  “I’ll handle everything,” I murmured, more to myself than Mandy.

  Mandy just cried some more.

  She’d taken a seat, but was rocking back and forth. I stood in front of her, clipboard in my hand.

  Pat and two other staff members stood behind her, waiting.

  “Mandy,” I spoke up, my voice breaking, “you gotta go.”

  “No,” she shook her head, whimpering, “no.”

  “You have to,” I whispered. “You gotta…you gotta face your shit, Mandy. You haven’t. You’ve been hiding, but that’s over now. You can make a fresh start now. You can be out of here—” I trailed off, knowing she wasn’t even listening. She couldn’t. She was still fighting it. Fighting me.

  I looked back at Pat, who gave me an encouraging look, a saddened smile.

  “We gotta say goodbye,” I whispered, my voice hoarse.

  “No,” Mandy whispered again, to herself.

  “Come on. Let’s go.” I pulled her up and wrapped my arms around her. Slowly, Mandy moved her arms around me, and then she clung to me.

  “Don’t me make do this, Taryn. Don’t make me go in there.”

  “You have to,” I said back, whispering into her hair, “or I’m gone.”

  Mandy didn’t say anything.

  “I love you,” I whispered, hugging my sister.

  Mandy clung tighter.

  I saw Pat come up behind Mandy, and she reached for her arms.

  But Mandy clung—like Brian had. She screamed, she cried, she begged. And then, finally, she stood and walked with them.

  She’d given up. The first part of the fight.

  I took a deep breath, knowing what was next, knowing it wasn’t over. And I sat down and filled out the paperwork. Making sure they knew the amount of Vitamin R that I found. That this had been the first time Mandy had been confronted. I pulled out our insurance card and wrote everything down. When I handed it over to Pat, my hands were shaking.

  “You okay, dear?” she asked kindly.

  I shook my head and then I turned and left.

  On the car-ride home, I called Tray. When he answered, I asked swiftly, “Where are you?”

  “I’m at home. I drove by your place, but it was dark.”

  “I took Mandy to rehab.” I choked on a sob, and stomped it down. “I can’t…I’m coming over.”

  “Okay,” Tray murmured and I heard the strength in his voice.

  It nearly broke me, but I kept driving.

  Almost an hour later, I pulled into his driveway.

  When I went inside, all the lights were off. No cars were in the driveway, except Tray’s and mine, thank God.

  I found Tray sitting in the glass-encased patio, where we’d congregated the night before. He had an open bottle of Jack Daniels in front of him and two shot glasses. He’d been staring outside.

  I looked and saw the pool’s glistening reflection from the moonlight above. It had been raining last night, but tonight it was clear as day. There was a full moon shining its ray of light down on the water.

  Tray didn’t look at me, but he pushed out the chair beside him. I bypassed it and curled up in his lap, resting my forehead against his chest as his arms came around me.

  We sat there in silence and he held me for a while.

  “Jenkins is gone,” Tray murmured, holding me tighter, “and his employer is done. I made a few phone calls.”

  “To your cop buddies?” I asked in a whisper, my forehead burrowing closer in his chest.

  He didn’t answer. But he didn’t need to.

  “Thanks,” I said softly.

  “How’s Mandy?”

  I looked up at him, sitting up a bit. “She’s…not good. She’ll hate me for a while. I’m sure I’ll be getting hate voice messages from her soon, but I think she’s just in shock right now. I told her no one would find out at school.”

  Tray nodded, watching me intently.

  I knew he wouldn’t say anything. Just like he knew I wouldn’t say anything. Maybe that was why we paired up, we both had secrets—and we both knew how to keep those secrets.

  “I’m sorry, fuck, I’m just—” Tray faltered, shaking his head. He rubbed a hand over his jaw and through his hair, not sure of what to say. “If you want to get forgetful drunk, I got the provisions.” He gestured to the bottle.

  I rested against him again, my back pressed to his chest, and lifted up his hands. I traced my fingers gently over his knuckles, inspecting the bandages. He did the same to me, running his hand tenderly over my cuts.

  “This morning,” Tray started, I heard a slight hitch in his voice, “I hated seeing Galverson here. The fucker took away my family. I couldn’t choose between my dad and Chase, so I pushed all of ‘em away. Chance, he was just a dipshit. He hated that I chose Dad’s side. And dad…he was so fucking smug, he thought I chose his side. And,” he took a deep breath, “I thought about it, I really did. But I heard mom crying one morning. I’d come home early from soccer practice, so she thought no one was around. I heard her when I went to the kitchen, and I found her in their bathroom. She had a fucking razor in h
er hands and she was filling the tub.”

  I closed my eyes, seeing it all in my head. Tray, as a child, finding his mother like that.

  His voice hardened as he continued, “She was crying about Dad and I realized then that I couldn’t go through with it. I couldn’t—do what he was doing—so I made the decision. If I couldn’t pick, I didn’t want anyone of them around. I already had a lot of the taps and stuff for Chance, but I lied to Chance and told him I messed up. That was when he beat the shit out of me. It was the last time I saw him. I was in the seventh grade. It took an entire year to get all the proof I needed.”

  “You haven’t seen Galverson since…?”

  “That was the time I used the tunnel, the only time really. I told Dad and Galverson my ultimatum and I hightailed it out of there. I locked ‘em in Dad’s office and ran for the tunnel. By the time they got out, I was already underneath the pool. I think Dad just forgot about the tunnel, I don’t know…maybe he knew and didn’t say anything on purpose. He could’ve. I didn’t know if I was going to get shot when I got out on the other side, but I had to go anyways. Live or die, right? Either way, you gotta fight.”

  It sounded like my motto.

  Tray continued, “I saw Galverson this morning and I felt that day, like I was there again. Reliving everything…I half expected my dad to come waltzing in from the library.”

  “Was Jace there?”

  “Yeah, but he was outside. Galverson sent him out by the guards. Fuck, I hid at Carter’s for a week after that. Carter never asked, he was just happy that I was around—I never let his dad push him around when I was there.”

  I grinned, resting my head against his chest. “Mandy told me that most of parents aren’t exactly fond of you.”

  That made him grin. “Shit, they hate me.”

  I reached for his hand and intertwined our fingers. I studied our hands in the moonlight.

  Tray sighed and added, “I stayed a lot at friends’ places a lot during that year and freshman year. I was such a shit, too. I was just a punk kid with this giant chip on my shoulder. I’d never talked about it, to anyone. I’m surprised I still have any friends. I was lucky. I think the principal and superintendent felt sorry for me; they just kept suspending me when I’d get in trouble. I should’ve gotten kicked out a dozen times, maybe more. But they always let me come back. They knew my parents took off, but no one knew why. I don’t think they did anyway, I never said anything. You’re the first one I’ve ever told, and it’s only because of your own thing with Galverson that I even said anything.”

  “I’m glad you told me.”

  “Fuck, Taryn, if he comes after us, I have a contact for witness protection. It’s all worked out, but I hate—fucking hate—that I have to have it at all, you know?”

  “Yeah,” I whispered, letting my legs fall apart, each leg dangling beside him, to the floor.

  Tray breathed again as he wrapped his arms around my waist, our hands now intertwined.

  “I told Mandy that no one would know, but I lied. They’re going to have to call Shelley and Kevin—Mandy’s only seventeen.”

  “She’ll be okay,” Tray murmured.

  “Yeah, but it’s going to be a lot of work for her.”

  “You want a drink?”

  “No,” I said firmly, my thoughts on Mandy.

  “Okay,” he said quietly, turning to kiss my cheek. Then he tilted my head back to meet his mouth. It was a kiss meant to comfort me, to show his support.

  “I have to talk to her coach tomorrow. They have to know a reason why she’s not going to be around. I suppose I’ll have to tell the counselor something, too. And, fuck, I have to give Props those tickets.”


  “Never mind.”

  “Play-offs are tomorrow. Carter’s planning on leaving in the morning,” Tray commented.

  “I’m not going.” I hadn’t planned either way. “Not with what happened and all. Mandy’s going to be calling me all day. At least, that’s what Brian always did.”

  “Can you do anything for her?”

  “No, not really.”

  “Maybe you should come with. It’d help take your mind off her and the whole situation.”

  “I don’t know. I just know that I can’t take much more. I’m so tired, Tray, of everything. I thought,” I let out a deep breath, “I left this all behind. When I get back home, I’ll have to clean up her room.”

  “I saw it. You tore it up, it looked like a bomb had gone off in there.”

  “I was on a mission. Plus, I know where to look. I am, after all, a thief.” I grinned. I was feeling a little better. I didn’t know why, or how, but I was better. I turned around and straddled him, both of us remembering our activities last night.

  “I can tell Carter to fuck off and come with you. We can take my vehicle, we’d leave whenever you want.”

  “When’s the first game?”

  “Three. Most everyone’s checking in at the hotel tomorrow afternoon and then heading over to the game.”

  “A hotel?”

  “Yeah, I have a room reserved.”

  “Were you planning on sharing with Carter and the guys?”

  “I was, until two weeks ago.” He stared at me pointedly.

  “Oh.” I grinned.

  “Come on,” he persuaded, his hazel eyes twinkling with a smidgen of amber. “Mandy’s in rehab. Your folk are gone. It’ll be fun. It’s time to get away.”

  “Do I have to spend time with Amber, Jasmine, and Tristan?” I rolled my eyes. I’d sign up for rehab myself before I had to spend a weekend with those three.

  Tray laughed. “I’m thinking no.”

  He’s right. I really didn’t have much else to do, except clean up Mandy’s room. Besides, a weekend, in a hotel room, with Tray sounded heavenly. A week ago, I never would’ve admitted that, let alone think of it.

  “Okay.” I sighed. “But I have a lot to do in the morning.”

  “You can get it done. Go in first hour and give your messages. Then pack, clean Mandy’s room. We can leave whenever you’re done.”

  “It’d be fun to leave with everyone else.”

  “Yeah,” he agreed. Tray tugged me down to him and I met him half-way, our lips met and we clung to each other. The kiss started out slow and tender, but a spark ignited in me. I clung to him desperately, as I felt the fire explode inside me.

  Tray was quick to respond and the kiss deepened, passionate.

  Our movements were heated, both desperate to forget everything, the need to be consumed by each other.

  Tray stood and walked us to the same bedroom.

  By the time he lowered me to the bed, I was already wrenching off his shirt, and his hands were fevered, trying to get mine off. It became a race and we couldn’t move fast enough. Finally, he pushed in, a deep slide that left me gasping. He reared up again and again, going deeper each time. I moved in sync with him, both of us a little crazed in the moment.

  After we came together, my last thought before I fell asleep was that the world hadn’t fallen apart.


  Arriving early to school at the ungodly hour of six a.m. is just wrong. What’s worse? Glittery, peppy cheerleaders at six in the morning.

  Maybe it was because I’d only gotten a few hours of sleep last
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