The original crowd, p.61
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       The Original Crowd, p.61

         Part #0.5 of A Whole New Crowd series by Tijan
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  “I know,” Jace replied.

  “Did you kill Brian? Did you?!” I screamed, but I stayed put.

  Jace ignored that and replied, “You were supposed to have a better life. I gave you that life. Why couldn’t you just take it?”

  “Because when people I love die or vanish, I don’t just give up and leave them. What were you going to do with Grayley? He’s never hurt you!”

  “Oh him,” Galverson sniggered, “he was poking around my place. Kinda like you, little birdie. Asking all sorts of questions.”

  “You’re going to die,” I repeated Tray’s prediction. I just didn’t know who would kill him, me or Tray, but one of us would take him down before we did. I’d personally grab his ankle and drag him to hell with me, if I had to.

  “Yes, yes. I’ve had lots of people tell me I’m going to die. Funny how no one seems to follow through.” He chuckled, but he stepped forward. I saw the gun raise slightly and braced myself for the inevitable.

  I looked up and stared boldly at Galverson, waiting.

  Pop!

  The world slowed; I felt the world literally drop onto my chest, like a suffocating weight in the atmosphere as I looked around.

  It took a second for me to comprehend it, but I was still standing. Tray was still standing. But Galverson, he had fallen with red-velvet blood that poured out of his wound. Shock had been cemented in his eyes as he’d realized what had happened. And who had shot him.

  Jace.

  Jace stood above his form and he emptied his clip into Galverson’s body.

  “Jace?” I gasped as I staggered back a bit.

  He looked up and met my eyes.

  “Jace?” I asked again.

  Just then three more shots rained out and the three security guards all dropped to the ground.

  Jace nodded behind us. “Your brother, Chance, is out that way. If you go with him, he’ll get you out safely.”

  Tray lingered a moment, his eyes on Galverson’s body before he nodded.

  “Jace?” I asked again.

  “Take her with you. And Grayley.” Jace ignored me.

  I shook off Tray’s hand and stepped forward. I grabbed Jace’s arm instead and whirled him to face me. “You asshole!” I seethed and slapped him.

  “Taryn, go,” he said quietly, “go.”

  “What was this? What? I don’t understand.”

  I wasn’t going anywhere. Tray and Jace both knew it, so he sighed and said quickly, “I’ve been working with the DEA for six years. Tray’s brother was my agent. I tried to keep you out of this, that’s why I set up your adoption. Brian found out and I tried to keep him from telling you, that’s when Grayley got suspicious. I think Brian told him what was going on. They didn’t know I had anything to do with you leaving, but I couldn’t protect Grayley. I’m sorry. I planted his phone where I knew you’d find it and I made sure that the videos got Tray’s brother. I needed you guys in here sooner than later so that this could all come to an end. But I had nothing to do with Brian’s death. You have to know that, Taryn!”

  “The DEA?” I echoed, baffled.

  “Get her out now!” Jace briskly ordered. “I can’t guarantee her safety for that much longer if they find her here. Right now they’ll think me and Galverson had a disagreement. I’ll take over Galverson’s business, they won’t even look for you guys. But that’s only if you’re not seen. Get out!”

  Tray nodded and grabbed my arm. He dragged me and carried Grayley out towards the tunnel’s opening.

  I floundered backwards, but gazed at Jace. He stood above Galverson’s body, his gun in his hand, and he watched me right back.

  I felt like my world had just been splintered, with little pieces amassing the ground I walked on.

  We left Jace behind and I didn’t know if that was a good or bad thing. The right or wrong thing.

  Gray. Everything was just gray. There was no longer black or white.

  I was vaguely aware of Tray’s hands at my elbows, but I was lifted onto a boat and deposited on a back seat.

  Tray was speaking to someone, his brother. They looked so much alike.

  Once upon a time, I knew another pair of brothers.

  CHAPTER TWENTY SEVEN

  Grayley would be fine. He was dehydrated and a little malnourished, but he’d be just fine after some much needed rest and lots of fluids. He already looked better, hooked up to an IV drip and whatever else the nurse gave him. She named some kind of medication, but I was clueless. I didn’t care what they gave him, as long as Grayley would be fine.

  Tray’s brother had his two co-workers bring us to the hospital. Tray and Chance had reconvened at Tray’s home. I figured they had plenty to talk about. Later, one of Chance’s co-workers mentioned that Lily—Galverson’s daughter—was waiting for Chance at their hotel. I’m sure that was going to be an awkward conversation. I couldn’t muster up much sympathy for the girl, but I guess I should’ve. She just lost her father, right? I should care.

  Hell, I didn’t know what it was like to have a father anyway.

  I sighed as the car was pulled over just outside my home.

  One of the agents stayed behind with Grayley. The other picked the short straw and got to chauffeur me around.

  Dumb luck for her. Because she was about to see some major fireworks.

  Both of Shelley and Kevin’s cars were in the driveway.

  “You alright?” Her name was Karen, the agent that worked on Chance’s team. Or at least that’s what Tray had explained to me. I met her eyes in the rear-view mirror. She looked nice, a bit concerned, but mostly just curious.

  “I’ve been through the wringer and don’t really have the energy to walk into a second one right now,” I replied dully.

  “Folks going to be pissed, huh?” Like I said, she was nice. Just nice.

  “Karen,” I murmured, “you don’t know the half of it.”

  “I can come in with you, if you’d like. Chance told me to make sure you’re alright and bring you back to the house. You’re my job right now, Miss Matthews.”

  “It’s Taryn.”

  “Taryn, it is.” Karen beamed.

  Karen was a bit too peppy for my usual mood, much less what I was in now.

  “I’ll just go in and pack my bags,” I murmured, already out the door and heading up the sidewalk. I could hear yelling even before I opened the door, but the sound was even more abrasive, lambasting me once I actually opened it.

  “You will listen to me, young lady!” Kevin shouted, finger pointed in the air. “You will change your attitude or you’ll be going right back to that rehab.”

  “Dad!” Mandy gasped.

  Mandy was home. And why didn’t that surprise me?

  I blinked in as I took in the sight. It was so much of a family meeting that I almost felt left out. Austin sat on the stairs, cradling his head. Shelley sat against the wall, arms folded across her chest. Devon was at the kitchen table, looking a little nervous. And Mandy and Kevin were toe to toe in the kitchen.

  “You have brought so much shame on this family and I will not stand for your disrespect, young lady.”

  “So you’re going to ship me off again? Oh wait! You weren’t even the one to do it in the first place!”

  “No, but I would’ve. And I won’t hesitate to do it this time.”

  “Kevin,” Shelley moaned, “stop, please. I can’t handle anymore.”

  “Please, Mom! You can’t handle this?! What a joke. You should be the one in rehab, not me and everyone knows it.” Mandy scoffed.

  “Amanda!” Shelley exclaimed, self-righteously. “I’ve never!”

  “Never what, Mom? Never had the truth out in the open? Where do you think I got my first dose? Wasn’t on the streets, that’s for sure. And moving your little stash from the candy machine from underneath your bathroom counter to underneath your mattress didn’t work. I still found ‘em, Mom,” Mandy taunted, and the sight was kind of beautiful.

  Ouch.

  Shelley l
ooked like she was about to either explode or faint. Either one, would be entertaining.

  “You, young lady, need to say goodbye to your boyfriend because it’s the last time in a very long time that you’ll see him again.”

  “What?!”

  “But—” Devon started, but quieted instantly.

  “You can’t do that!” Mandy screeched. The honest to God perfect cheerleader mask had fallen from grace. Instead was a living breathing human being.

  Thank God.

  “I mean it. You are grounded until your father and I figure out what to do with you. That means no boyfriend, no phone, no computer, no television, and no parties.” Who knew Shelley had it in her to be stern? And actually parent?

  “What about school?”

  Points for Mandy—she’d be fighting to go anywhere at this point, even school.

  “No school. Not until we decide what to do.”

  “You mean where to ship me off?” Mandy griped.

  Kevin cleared his throat. “Your mother is right. You can say goodbye to Devon and then you need to go to your room for the rest of the night.”

  “I can’t believe you guys! You are such hypocrites! You’re always gone. Always! And now you suddenly decide to be my parents?!”

  Throw in a foot stomp and you’d have an official temper tantrum.

  I loved this Mandy.

  “We are not hypocrites and do not speak to your father like that.”

  “Stop it! Just stop it!” Austin cried out, hurtling to his feet. “This is bullshit. Every fucking word, it’s all bullshit.”

  What did I say before? My mini-me.

  “Austin,” Shelley gasped, taken aback. Even Kevin had been shocked to silence.

  I was so proud of them. A little of me had rubbed off on both of ‘em.

  “I think it’s bullshit that we needed Taryn to man up and do your jobs. She’s the one who took Mandy to rehab, she’s the one who saw it was a problem and just did something about it. Mom, you don’t do shit fir me. And Dad, you’re never here to do anything with me. And when you are, you’re always in your office. I think it’s bullshit!”

  Mandy looked over to Devon, but her eyes saw me in the doorway.

  “This isn’t about Taryn,” Kevin started.

  “No, it’s about you two and you just suck as being parents,” Austin retorted. “You don’t even know where Taryn is anyway. No wonder she’s always gone. Why the hell would she want to be around here when you guys aren’t even around?”

  Oh boy. Stab me straight in my heart.

  “I’m here now, Austin,” I spoke up, quietly.

  He was a little punk, but in that moment, I saw the little boy in him.

  “I’m sorry that I haven’t been around,” I added.

  “And where have you been?” Shelley asked sharply.

  I sighed. “I don’t think this should be turned around on me.”

  “You took my daughter to rehab and you disappeared. Mrs. Bates told me that you’ve been dating that Evans boy. I do not want Tray Evans in your life, Taryn. He is a bad influence and he deserves to be in jail.”

  Oh, if she only knew.

  I said icily, “Right now, I think Tray’s the best influence I could have in my life. Especially considering it was his father who sold my adoption to you.”

  Shelley and Kevin—both froze. Completely still.

  “I don’t see why you should even make demands as to where I’ve been considering the fact that you got paid how much? Ten mil, is what I heard. I was an easy enough reward. Got the money and I’m not even around that much for you to deal with me and my ‘stealing’ ways.”

  “Who told you that?”

  I’d had enough of this. I couldn’t squelch the disdain in my voice as I said slowly, “There’s a reason why you were paid to adopt me, and it’s the same goddamn reason why I was able to figure it out. As far as I’m concerned, I’m done with you as my parents. This family is ridiculous. You have so many problems and I’m thinking I’m the healthiest one here. Mandy and Austin are my brother and sister, no matter what, but you two—no fucking way are you my parents. No fucking way in hell!”

  “You need to watch your language,” Shelley retorted. I saw the anger spark in her eyes, the rigid set in her shoulders.

  But I plowed ahead, not caring, “I’m thinking my language is the least of your concerns. You wanna screw up your daughter and son? Fine, go ahead. Keep using drugs, keep letting your husband leave and avoid everything that goes on here. Just keep pushing your head in your fucking drug pillow and pretend that life’s alright. It’ll work its way out in the end when someone in this family ends up killing themselves. That’d be a great ending to your fucked up life.”

  “Shut up,” Shelley whispered, “shut up.”

  “Please, don’t shut up!” I threw back. “That’s your problem. You don’t say anything and hide. You both hide. Kevin, I’m pretty sure you don’t have to go to all those fucking medical conferences.”

  I saw the relief in Mandy and Austin’s eyes. And it was enough, at least for me, to keep going.

  “Whatever,” I bit out, moving past to the stairs, “I’m just here to pack my bags. I’ll be leaving shortly. Mandy, Austin, I’m at Tray’s if you need me.”

  After my bag was packed, the kitchen was still quiet.

  Whatever.

  I didn’t bother to say goodbye when I shut the door.

  “Taryn!”

  I turned back and saw Austin at the door. He looked uncertain.

  “Come on.” I gestured to the car and I knew it was the right thing to do. His shoulders seemed to relax, so I threw my arm over his shoulder and murmured, “You can stay at Tray’s if you want.”

  The punk couldn’t say anything, but I saw tears in his eyes.

  Karen turned in surprise when Austin and I crawled into the back. “Plus one, huh.”

  “Yep. What can I say? He’s a little shit, but he’s attached at the hip.”

  Austin grinned and looked out the window.

  I saw one of his hands was trembling slightly, but he tucked it under his leg.

  When we got to Tray’s I wasn’t really surprised to see the driveway packed with cars.

  It was mass chaos when we walked in.

  Karen quickly vanished down the hallway and I told Austin to hang out while I put my bag in the pool-house.

  When I got back to the main house, there were three agents in the kitchen, talking quietly. They shut up the second I entered, but I passed ‘em by, in search of Austin and Tray.

  I found Austin in a back room. It looked like a smaller media room and he had already hooked up the PlayStation.

  “You okay in here?”

  “Yeah,” Austin mumbled, not meeting my eyes. But that was okay. He was a fourteen year old boy. A lot had happened, but his cool image needed to be protected. He’d earned some ‘escape’ time.

  “I’m going to go find Tray, so if you need something just ask. Okay?”

 

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