The original crowd, p.50
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       The Original Crowd, p.50

         Part #0.5 of A Whole New Crowd series by Tijan
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  does not come our way, it is that we can overcome it when it does come our way. And so we lift our prayers up…and God is with us.

  I was done crying.

  I’d shed my well, but I sighed anyway, knowing I’d be crying if they’d been there.

  Tray sat up and drew me against his chest, his arms encircled me, and he kissed my cheek, while continuing to hold my hand.

  *

  When we filed out, Tray led the way with Geezer right behind me. We stood off to side, waiting for the processional to leave, for the casket to be raised and carried out.

  I hadn’t realized who we were standing next to, but I felt someone reach out and touch my arm. Looking back, I saw Gentley with Kimberly.

  He nodded to Tray, then looked at me, and murmured, “I’m sorry, Taryn.”

  He sounded sincere.

  Kimberly smiled, a soft, sad smile, and murmured, “I’m sorry too, Taryn.” Behind her was Crystal. She nodded to Tray and then hugged me. I was surprised, but I returned the hug.

  A feeling of gratefulness came over me.

  As we stood there waiting, more and more people came up to me and repeated their sympathies.

  I felt like a widower—that my other half died, leaving me bereft—but it wasn’t true. I thanked God that I had a chance to say goodbye to Brian—literally and spiritually.

  When the casket came out, I watched Jace, in the front end as he passed by.

  He turned and met my gaze. His eyes were empty—there was nothing there—no emotion.

  But then again, maybe that’s what he saw in mine.

  As they walked on and around to the cemetery. We all filed along, gathering around as the pastor said another prayer. Brian was joining the earth. His body was here, his soul with God.

  Jace stood to the side as the casket was lowered, and then covered with the earth’s ground. His aunt and cousin both threw roses in, while Brian’s father stood stoically beside his eldest son.

  His favorite son in the ground. His favored son in the dirt.

  “Hey, Taryn.”

  I looked up and saw it was Ben, the rest of Jace’s guys were behind him.

  “We’re sorry,” he said quietly, giving me a hug, and a kiss on the cheek.

  Each one followed suit. Each gave me a hug, then a kiss, giving their sympathy and condolences.

  Cammy was at the end.

  She’d been crying, her make-up was running down her face. She reached and embraced me. “I’m sorry, Taryn.” Then she walked away quickly, hurrying after the guys.

  Tray touched my elbow and I saw most everyone had left.

  It was over.

  We went inside, and I grabbed a rose from one of the flower arrangements—a keepsake—then we went back outside.

  Geezer was waiting, glancing uncertainly around. I was reminded that Grayley hadn’t come, and it hurt. It really hurt—he should’ve been here, he should’ve been a part of this, sitting on the opposite side of Geezer.

  “Hey,” I murmured, my voice hoarse.

  “Hey.” He grabbed me in a hug, squeezing my entire body. In my ear, he whispered, “Listen…huh—”

  “What?” I asked, standing in his embrace, long after conventional norms.

  “Grayley’s missing,” he choked out, “I wasn’t sure about…I didn’t know what to say, but…he went to find Brian…and he never came back, if you know what I mean.”

  When the words registered, my body went cold.

  *

  I’d told Brian that I wanted to know what Jace had done, what arrangements he’d made for me. Geezer had told me that Brian had found the answer and had been on his way to see me.

  Brian was dead.

  Grayley was missing.

  And Jace was here.

  I looked up, my arms still around Geezer, and I saw Jace standing at his car. He looked like he was waiting—waiting for me.

  “Geezer,” I said, pulling away. I met his eyes, mine fierce. “Where did he go?”

  He looked away, running a hand through his shaggy hair.

  “Charles!” I said firmly.

  “He,” he sighed, stuffing his hands in his pockets, “he…went to Jace’s. Brian called me from there. He said he had some information and that he was on his way to find you. He said you needed to know…and then…he never called us back. He was supposed to go and see you, then report back, but he never called. Grayley got antsy and took off to go find him. Then I got a phone call from a friend who works at the hospital; she knew I was close to Brian. She said a chopper went out to Rawley to pick him up. When I got to the hospital, Jace told me he was dead.”

  I turned away, my arms hugging myself. I was shivering.

  “Taryn,” Geezer mumbled, “what are you…I mean…what are you going to do?”

  “Do?” I asked numbly. .

  “Yeah, I mean…we gotta find Grayley, you know? He’s my best friend.”

  “Mine too,” I mumbled, my eyes only seeing Jace. His eyes were still blank. “Mine too,” I repeated.

  Geezer sighed a deep shuttering breath.

  “Fuck…,” he groaned. “I could go for a joint, like, right now.”

  “Geezer,” I snapped, “stop it! Just stop it!”

  Taken aback, looking confused, he asked, “Huh? What?”

  “Stop living your life on marijuana. Weed’s not going to get you anywhere, you’re wasting your life. It’s gonna ruin everything for you. So just…stop.”

  “Yeah, but—”

  “No, Geezer. Stop it.”

  “I can’t talk to people unless I’m high,” he debated.

  “You don’t talk to people anyways. You hole up in your house and get high. You’re not doing anything. Go back to school—Brian would want you to go back to school.”

  “Come on—”

  “Who do you want Brian to remember?” I asked. “The Geezer who doesn’t do anything and just gets high all the time…or do you want to be someone else? Someone Brian would be proud of?”

  He glanced away, torn. Pained.

  I gentled my voice, “You don’t give a shit about your life. But I do. Do it for me, at least until you can do it for yourself later.”

  He still wouldn’t look at me. The topic was too personal, too raw for him, but he’d heard me. It was all I could do for him.

  “Taryn,” Tray spoke up, his hand touching my elbow, “we should go.”

  “Okay,” I murmured to myself, feeling my feet following behind. As we approached his car, I saw Jace straighten from his. He took a step towards me, hands in his pockets, his tie flapping in the wind over his shoulder.

  I saw the intensity in his eyes as our gazes met, but I looked away. I had an awful feeling that Jace had a part in Brian’s death and I couldn’t face him, not now.

  “Taryn—” he started as Tray led me past him.

  Tray let go of my elbow and walked to his side of the car. As he unlocked it, I stood there, facing away from Jace.

  Standing beside me, he spoke earnestly, “Taryn, look at me.”

  I didn’t acknowledge him. I couldn’t. I’d go off and I wasn’t going to do that at Brian’s funeral.

  “Can you please just stop…please?”

  “No.” I turned to face him. “Brian found something out, didn’t he? Something that you did to me and he was going to tell me. And now he’s dead. Kind of a coincidence, isn’t it?”

  Jace paled. “It’s not…that’s not—”

  “Fuck you,” I bit out, climbing inside the SUV, I slammed the door.

  *

  As Tray left the church, I spoke, quietly, “This isn’t about you, it’s not about your dad, it’s not about Galverson. It’s about me and Brian…and whatever Jace is hiding.” I looked up and met his gaze.

  “I’m going after him,” I announced.

  Tray didn’t say anything, but turned the wheel. He pulled into the nearest parking lot and stopped the engine. Sitting back, he asked, “Do you know what you’re getting yourself into?”
>
  “Yes. No. I don’t care.”

  “Taryn, it is about Galverson, whether he’s your focus or not. Jace is connected to Galverson, so whatever you find—will have Galverson’s prints on it too. You’ll have both of ‘em gunning for you.”

  “Jace knows what happened to Brian.”

  “Yeah, probably,” Tray murmured, rubbing his jaw, “but it doesn’t mean he killed him. It doesn’t even mean he found anything out.”

  “I told Brian that I wanted to know what arrangements Jace had made for me. I told Brian that and then he told Geezer that he found out. He was coming to tell me. He found something out…and now he’s dead.”

  “If it was so dangerous, why’d he leave a trail and tell Geezer that?”

  “Grayley’s missing,” I exclaimed. “He went to find Brian when he didn’t call…and now he’s missing. Grayley’s missing and Brian’s dead. I can’t sit back anymore.”

  “Even though it might be you in a casket next?” he asked tiredly.

  “Tray—”

  “I mean it, Taryn, you go after Galverson and chances are fucking high it’ll be your fucking funeral next time. I don’t want to go that fucking ceremony.”

  “My best friend is missing. I can’t lose him too,” I pleaded.

  “Oh come on!” he cried out, pissed.

  “You took him on once before. Help me this time. Help me finish him for good,”” I begged.

  “Please,” I asked again.

  “Taryn,” he hedged, shaking his head.

  “I’m one of the best there is, I can get anywhere, Tray. Anywhere. I went in blind and got into a police station. A fucking police station! I can do that, I can go anywhere with planning. I already have some stuff.” At his quick glance, I told him, “I haven’t looked at it, not since I decided to leave it alone.”

  Tray swore.

  “Your family’s alive,” I spoke. It was true, but Tray had already lost them. He’d already lost his family. “Brian’s dead.” And I lost something similar. “I can’t lose Grayley too.”

  “Fuck…Taryn—”

  “Brian’s dead,” I bit out. “I’m going after him whether you’re with me or not.”

  “Oh—”

  I stopped, pleading with my eyes. “You know how to do this. You know how to take him down. You know so much about their fucking world—things that I could never know. Please, Tray, you did it when you were in the fucking eighth grade. You did it when you were a kid. We’re not kids anymore.”

  After a second, I could see his decision flash in his hazel eyes and I grinned. It was time for war.

  CHAPTER TWENTY TWO

  I was waiting by Props’ locker when he arrived to school and I grinned, seeing him pale slightly. His eyes went to the flash drive that was dangling from my fingers. “Heya, Props!” I said cheerfully.

  “Hey—” he said uncertainly.

  “How was your date?”

  He opened his locker and said stiffly, “Fine. What are you doing here?”

  “I took a peek at what’s on here,” I stated, leaning against the next locker. “Guess what? It doesn’t make any sense to me. So, seeing how I don’t read technical code, I should come to the resident expert. That’d be you.”

  The guy looked like he was about to pee his pants.

  “So, you’re going to tell me what’s on this,” I announced.

  “What…what’s in it for me?” He hesitated.

  “Same deal as before. What do you want? And it better not be a second date with Aidrian Casners.”

  “Uh—”

  Too late—he took too long in answering me—I wanted a ‘yes’ immediately. I snapped, “You’re going to help me or you’ll deal with me. And if I’m not scary enough, remember what I said about my car? I like running people over with it.”

  “Fine. Fine. I’ll help, jeez. Just…”

  “Just what?” I warned.

  “Nothing.”

  “That’s what I thought. So, when and where do we get started?”

  “Uh,” he scratched the back of his head, “how about after school? You could come over to my house—”

  “Where I’ll have to meet your mom, who will think I’m your girlfriend? I don’t think so, you can come to Tray’s house. Bring your laptop and whatever techie gadgets you need.”

  He paled.

  I turned and marched off. Not appeased, not fucking at all. I wanted to get at that information ASAP and now I’ll have to wait for the entire fucking day.

  Swearing, I kicked my locker when it stuck.

  “Man, I’m surprised to see you here,” Crystal remarked, hugging her books to her chest.

  I spared a glance at her, but went back to beating the shit out of my locker.

  “You’re entitled to some time off, you know? You shouldn’t be back at school already. Brian’s funeral was yesterday.”

  “I know when Brian’s funeral was!” I snapped, punching my locker. It wouldn’t move. Props wouldn’t help me right this second. And Brian was still dead.

  I was mortified, feeling tears tease at the corners of my eyes.

  “Hey, hey, hey.” Tray seemed to materialize out of nowhere. He blocked me from the watching audience and Crystal quickly stepped closer, blocking me from her angle.

  “Get off,” I warned.

  Tray rolled his eyes and slammed a fist to my locker, where it opened immediately. He grabbed my books and held them hostage. “You going to calm down?!”

  “Give me my goddamn books.”

  “If you’re going to go at it like this, all emotional and shit—we’re gonna fail. You have to push it aside, Taryn.”

  Crystal frowned. We weren’t referring to books.

  “I don’t need—”

  “My help?” Tray slipped it, “Because, according to you, you do need my help and I’m telling you—calm the fuck down!”

  “My locker wouldn’t open.” I knew it was a shameless excuse.

  “We’re not talking about your damn locker and you fucking know it,” Tray growled.

  “Stop it!” I shoved him away. “Give me a break…”

 
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