The original crowd, p.47
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       The Original Crowd, p.47

         Part #0.5 of A Whole New Crowd series by Tijan
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  night, but I was literally dragging. I had a full day ahead of me so I had to start early. I figured I could sleep on the way to the cities since Tray was sleeping in.

  “Taryn.”

  I cringed, but fought the impulse to hurl my coffee at the voice.

  “Hey, Taryn!”

  My hand gripped harder on my coffee.

  “What? I snapped at Tristan’s friend, Erin.

  “Where’s Mandy?”

  “Where’s your coach?” I asked instead. The coach could say whatever she chose to say, I was only telling my message to those who were necessary. And sadly, I felt her coach was one of those people.

  Erin pointed to a woman in her thirties, and you could tell she was athletic. She could’ve been a personal trainer. She was wearing crisp khaki shorts and a white polo t-shirt. I was relieved to see that she was not wearing glitter.

  “What’s her name?” I asked Erin.

  “Coach Hailey.”

  I crossed over to her, overhearing her conversation with one of the girls, “We need you to be stronger in our pyramid. You’re the flyer, Sasha.”

  Hearing who was in front of me, I couldn’t control an eye-roll.

  “I know, Hails. I’ll tuck it in, I promise.” Sasha actually sounded earnest. Imagine my shock at her attitude. I almost keeled over right there in the parking lot.

  Sasha turned around and braked, just before she ran me over, saw who I was and then sneered at me. Ah, that’s better.

  “Move,” I ordered.

  “Listen, you little—”

  “Sasha,” her coach said, and I actually stumbled back a few steps when Sasha shut up and left.

  “Cheerleading does have a goddess, and you are her,” I stated matter-of-factly as I moved forward.

  “Can I help you?” she asked, glancing back to her clipboard.

  “Uh, yeah. I’m Mandy’s sister.”

  “Adopted sister!” Sasha yelled from behind me.

  “Sasha. Bus. Now,” Coach Hailey commanded.

  I was more than impressed. If this woman was anything other than a cheerleading coach, I’d sign up to be her protégé.

  “Uh, yeah,” I murmured, “look, Mandy won’t be at the game.”

  That got the coach’s attention. Her head snapped up and she asked, “What?”

  “She…she had a family emergency and is going to gone for a while.”

  “Define a while? And please have your definition include ‘she’ll make be here in five minutes’ or ‘she’ll be meeting us later in time for the championship games’,” she barked.

  Whoa.

  “Uh…the family emergency is not here and she’s going to be gone for at least a month.”

  “No,” she stated.

  “Excuse me?”

  “No.”

  “I’m not a genie. I can’t say ‘poof’ and Mandy appear magically,” I explain, rocking back on my heels, clutching my coffee for strength.

  “Mandy’s the captain of this team, she leads the count. She’s our top flyer and I need her. The squad needs her.”

  “Well, she’s needed somewhere else.” I was starting to see why Vitamin R had been tempting to Mandy.

  “Listen, I’ve heard about you, and if this is because of you, wherever she is, undo it. Now. I’ll expect to see Mandy at the Dome before the game, okay?” She pushed past me.

  I turned and called out, “She won’t be there. And no matter how much you’re putting this on me, Mandy’s not coming.”

  “Listen,” she began, turning back to face me.

  I got in her face. “No. Because you’re not listening to me.” I liked teachers, well I respected teachers. I did. But this one…fuck no. “Get over your little trip to Denial Land and deal with it. My sister has an emergency she has to deal with and if you try to get to her, you’ll have to go through me.”

  “Where is she?”

  I was silent. I shifted on my feet and crossed my arms, as much as I could with a coffee cup.

  “Your name’s Taryn, right? Mandy talks about you, a lot. I’ve heard the other girls talk too. You don’t have a great reputation. You’re a troublemaker and you’re on a spiral ride down. I will not let you take Mandy with you.”

  That was it.

  I crowded her. “Well, right now I’m the only one who’s keeping her from hitting rock bottom, so get off my back, Coach Hailey.”

  “I’m calling your parents and setting up a conference for all of us, including the principal and superintendent. You can’t speak to a teacher like that.”

  “Fine by me. When you get a hold of ‘em, let ‘em know that their family is falling apart. If they were around a little more, Mandy wouldn’t be where she is right now.”

  Fuck. I said way too much. Before I could say anything else I’d regret telling this woman, I turned and swept into the school.

  Since it was still way too early, I was faced with a good two hours of nothing before classes started.

  This is not a good thing for me. If I get too bored, with too much time on my hands, it’s inevitable for me to come up with something that would more than likely get me into trouble. For instance, right now I’m thinking that I could break into the front office and look up Props’ locker combination. You know, so I can put the tickets in there now and I wouldn’t have to waste time trying to find him later. I would never break in without a good reason. Cue the sarcasm.

  That’s my rationalization and I’m sticking to it.

  I was telling myself, don’t, don’t, don’t, .but I found myself circling around the locked office doors. It was a whole lot of dark in there. I knew exactly how to get in there, I knew exactly where the locker combinations were—I saw where they were kept when they issued me my locker. It’d be so easy. A quick slip in, a little measly lock to pick, and voila—the combination I needed.

  I jumped a good three inches when my phone rang.

  “Yeah?” I snapped out, irritated at the caller for interrupting me and at myself for having weak thoughts.

  “Where are you?” Tray asked, sounding half-asleep.

  “I’m at school.”

  “Fuck. Why?”

  “I needed to talk to Mandy’s coach and I suppose I’ll have to say something to the counselor.”

  “Forget that shit. Tell her on Monday.”

  It was a good idea. “I can’t. I gotta hand over these tickets.”

  “Slip ‘em in the locker.”

  “They’re tickets and backstage passes. They won’t fit.” Unless I break in the office and find his combination… It was so tempting. Damn this trying to be good.

  “Who is this kid?”

  “He’s a computer geek. His name is Props.”

  “Props? What kind of stupid-ass name is that?”

  “Right. Because while he’s actually earned his name, you have friends by the name of Rooters and Helms. Not to mention the very original nickname of using last names instead of first names. Because those aren’t lame.” I needed to stand up for Props, I kind of liked him. He had potential and he was a good resource for future reference.

  “Shut up,” Tray moaned.

  “I just got bitched out by Mandy’s coach, I won’t shut up.”

  “Oh fuck!” Tray started to laugh. The sound was very irritating.

  If I wasn’t peppy, he couldn’t be either.

  “Shut up.”

  “Oh, fuck, this is hilarious.”

  “What is?” I asked warily.

  “The cheerleading coach is the counselor.”

  Oh…fuck.

  I hung up on his laughing ass.

  I ended up camping out on the picnic tables, set up on the lawn right next to the parking lot. Talking to Tray had helped calm my inner need for an adrenalin rush—he was enough of an adrenalin rush on his own. So, after my second trip for coffee, I got some homework done instead.

  The second I saw Props, I was off and hurrying his way. The dude could walk, it was close to a half-sprint. I almost lost him, bu
t I managed to see him swerve into a backroom, somewhere, and I quickly rushed inside.

  I was surrounded by computer geek heaven.

  There were computers—everywhere—complete with head-sets, cameras, and an actual Lord of the Rings 3D statue in the corner. They liked Aragorn.

  “Hey!” I called out.

  Props popped his head out from behind a doorway. “Hi!” He was surprised, to say the least, but he looked excited.

  I grabbed my bag and dug out the tickets and backstage passes.

  Handing them over, I informed him, “These are for you. Show up at six-thirty, sharp. She’s expecting you.”

  “Oh…wow. I mean…oh…oh…”

  The guy had gone to Nanaland.

  I patted him on the shoulder. “Have fun. Be cool, treat her like shit, and you’ll be getting laid by the first set.”

  Then I left.

  When I got home, I was surprised to see Austin in the kitchen.

  He grunted in response. Such an eighth grade, brotherly response.

  “Hi,” I replied a little uncertainly. He seemed normal, but he didn’t usually let a whole lot of emotion show. “Have you been upstairs?”

  Just then a Pop-Tart jumped out of the toaster, and he grabbed it. “Do you mean, did I see Mandy’s trashed room?” he asked.

  That’d be a yes. A big fat yes.

  When he looked up and met my eyes—he knew. I could see it. Hell, he’d probably always known.

  “I took her to rehab last night,” I murmured, sitting on a stool waiting for his response.

  He shrugged, turning to grab a glass of orange juice.

  “How long have you known?”

  “It’s not the first time, you know. Mom found ‘em one time. Mandy gave her a bullshit story, said they were herbal vitamins. They helped her body restore her metabolism, or some shit like that.”

  “She believed her?” I asked quietly.

  “Wouldn’t you? Your perfect straight-A daughter on Honor Roll, taking fucking speed?” He shrugged, eating his Pop-Tart. “Of course Mom believed her. Mom’ll believe anything, if it sounds somewhat reasonable.”

  The kid was too smart, way too smart for his own good.

  “For what it’s worth, it wasn’t speed. It was Vitamin R. That’s Ritalin.”

  “Whatever. She’s been on ‘em forever,” he grumbled, stuffing a Lunchable in his backpack.

  “Austin,” I stopped him as he walked past me for the door, “what are you doing this weekend?” I heard a car engine and I figured his friends were waiting for him.

  “I’ll be at Dustin’s for the next week. Then I’ll be at Paul’s after that.”

  “Okay.”

  He rolled his eyes and left, but stopped in the doorway. He turned halfway around and said, “Look—”

  I waited.

  “Forget it.” He shrugged his shoulders and was off again, the door slamming behind him.

  Well. That was refreshing, like always.

  It took me an hour to clean Mandy’s room, but it was done half-heartedly. I wanted stuff put away so it wasn’t such an eye-sore. I knew Mandy would be changing everything anyway when she returned home. It’d have to be perfect and I knew there was no way I’d get it right by her standards.

  I was in my room, packing, when my phone rang.

  “Hey,” I answered, knowing it was Tray.

  “I’m ready to go,” he announced. He sounded disgustingly, cheerful.

  “Wanna drive over and pick me up?”

  “Turning down your street.” He hung up and a second later I heard a car pull into the driveway.

  Then the backdoor opened and I heard footsteps on the stairs and hallway.

  When he turned the corner, I had my bag packed.

  “Hi.” I smiled, relieved that my boyfriend was here to do his boyfriend duty and carry my bags.

  Tray raked a hand through his hair, staring at the pile in front of him. “That all?”

  “Yep.”

  Tray groaned, but knelt and picked up my two bags and pillow. He shifted and looked at me. “What else?”

  “I got it.” I only had my backpack, filled with homework. Never hurt to be prepared for anything, and boredom was something I needed to prepare for. I’m not stupid, I know Tray would want some time with his friends—or in truth—it’d be his friends storming our room, demanding Tray to come out and play.

  Tray led the way downstairs, swearing when the bags banged into the walls. After the second picture got knocked off the wall, I turned and held an arm out. “You can’t carry two bags? Are you serious?”

  “These are not normal bags,” he pointed out. “You fucking packed for three months, not three days.”

  “I’m a girl,” I stated, duh. “I am not a boy who needs one pair of pants and two shirts. Girls have different outfits for different events. Hotel, the games, the pool, and parties all equal different outfits. You’ve screwed how many girls? I’d think you’d be aware of some of these basic, fundamental, facts.”

  Tray smirked. “No outfits were involved with those girls.”

  “Shut up,” I snapped, grinning.

  I held the door open as Tray ducked through and dumped the bags in the back, he carried my pillow to the front. When I climbed inside, I lit up—he’d gotten coffee!

  As he drove down the road, I asked, “Where are we meeting?”

  “Carter’s.”

  “It’s going to be a caravan or something?”

  “Probably,” he murmured, frowning at the road ahead.

  “Do I need to be awake for all this?”

  “Uh,” he trailed off, not listening to me anymore, “what the fuck?”

  Glancing up, I saw a car accident. One car had been completely flipped over and the other consisted of a small square of metal. Literally. Ambulances, police, and firemen were everywhere.

  “Go around,” I murmured, hunching down in my seat. I reached for my phone and shut it off. For some reason, a sense of foreboding had taken root in my stomach and I couldn’t look at the accident. It was an awful feeling and I was confused as to why this accident was making me feel this way.

  Tray glanced at me quickly, but he switched down a side-road, bypassing the backed-up traffic.

  I reached for the coffee and let the hotness burn my tongue. It took away the uneasiness I was feeling.

  “Fuck!” I gasped.

  Tray chuckled. “You saw the steam, you felt the cup, you knew

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