The original crowd, p.7
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       The Original Crowd, p.7
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         Part #0.5 of A Whole New Crowd series by Tijan

  linebacker.”

  I wrenched my arm away, fixing him with a cold stare. “And we’re back to the precious football team…with their new game book.”

  His eyes went cold as he stepped back. “Whatever.”

  I walked out, letting the door slam shut behind me.

  *

  We didn’t end up doing anything that night. Mandy cried the entire ride back to our house. After she showered, she curled up on my bed and cried herself to sleep. I wasn’t sure what to do, so I slept on the couch in my room. I figured Mandy didn’t want to be alone and she probably wouldn’t want me to sleep in her room. The next morning, she cried again—through breakfast, lunch, and dinner. She didn’t once ask about getting revenge on Jasmine or Bryce. After she went to bed early that night, around eight, I dressed in some black work-out clothes, and slipped outside to my car.

  Mandy might have cooled off, but I hadn’t. I knew what she would probably meet in school the next day, so it was in my hands; I needed to do something to help take the heat off of her tomorrow.

  Driving to school, I parked on the road by the football field. It was far enough away from the normal parking lots that no one would look at it suspiciously and, if need be, I could easily run through the football stadium and evade anyone in the trees that outlined the perimeters if I got caught.

  Coming up to the school, I circled around to the janitor’s office and hooked a leg onto the fire escape. Darting up, I pulled myself onto the roof and crossed to one of the heating fans. Seeing it had been turned off, I unscrewed the shaft and lifted it clear off. Then I went to work on the fan—wedging a rock between the blades, just in case it turned on, I slipped my hands through and found the bolts. After they had been unscrewed, I lifted the fan up and then slipped through. My feet touching the ceiling, I ran my hands around the flooring until I found the hatch that led to the venting shafts. Again, I lowered my body down, and then crawled through the vents until I measured the distance in my mind, counting every inch I moved forward. When I thought I was in the main office, I lightly kicked the screen out and quickly caught it before it fell to the ground. My estimation had been correct—I was in the main office. Climbing out, I went to P.A. system where it was located by the principal’s office. Turning it on, I went to work, changing the alarm timings and preferences. I programmed it to play some rap music (left on the desktop from when the student council had persuaded the administration to let them play music at the end of the day) around the clock. Then I protected that command with a password, followed by a second password.

  It paid to have criminal friends sometimes.

  The music should work first, and hopefully they won’t be able to shut it off for a few hours, and then after that, the alarm system should kick in, making the alarms ring every five minutes. The last command, I protected it with another three passwords. The only way they would be able to stop them immediately is if they shut off the electricity, completely. And they won’t do that, not until they were desperate.

  That should cause enough chaos.

  Hoisting my body back through the venting shafts, my only thought was that I needed to remember to bring some ear-plugs tomorrow. I’d make sure they got passed around to the students; maybe put them in a bag on one of the lunch tables.

  *

  Mandy drove separate from me the next morning. She barely said a word at breakfast, but I could tell she was terrified because she was completely white in the face—she looked like death warmed over. When I asked if she wanted to ride with me, she’d said that she had cheer practice and then a student council meeting after school.

  And me, my plans for after school, entailed meeting up with Grayley and getting the blueprints to the new school Pedlam had built last summer. They’d had tight security when I went there so I didn’t know if they would’ve kept it up or loosened it since I no longer attended. I needed to find out what I was walking into Thursday night. Grayley would get me everything I needed.

  The parking lot was already full so I had to park on the street. I saw students talking on the lawn, which wasn’t unusual but normally it was only a third of the students. Today the number had tripled, guess the music had deterred people from hearing their gossip inside. I could still hear the music blaring through the open doors. Walking inside, I passed the office and saw the entire faculty jammed inside, well, probably not all the faculty, but enough. They all looked pissed.

  As I drew near my locker, I saw students running through the halls. The stoners had taken the opportunity to get high in the hallways; no one was paying attention to them. Putting my backpack in my locker, I passed my classroom and found it empty. I followed the hallway to the parking lot where I saw the remaining student body loitering on the lawn or standing around their cars. Spotting Mandy, I saw her head bent in a group of cheerleaders—who knows what they were talking about. I saw Devon sitting on the back of his truck, Jasmine was hanging on him with the rest of their crowd lounging around. Tray leaned against the pickup, his arms crossed over his chest as he seemed to be listening to whatever story Amber was telling. Bryce and Grant were both grinning.

  Dropping to the grass, I leaned against a tree, pulling out my iPod, but I didn’t press play right away. I was listening to a conversation between some sophomores (I think) behind me. They were talking about the music and what the school was going to do, wondering if classes were going to be cancelled or not. I couldn’t stop the grin on my face; there was no word about Mandy, Devon, or Jasmine. That’s all I cared about. Then I pressed play.

  *

  They ended up canceling school. They couldn’t get around my passwords, which surprised me. Pedlam usually blasted through my passwords within an hour. As I walked through the hallways to my car, my science partner (with the microscope glasses) ran up to me and told me excitedly that the school had to call in a specialist; that whoever had done the prank was a god and it was the coolest thing that had happened to Rawley, ever!

  Told you I was a legend at my skill.

  However, I didn’t like that they called in a specialist. When I pulled a similar prank at Pedlam, they had to call in a specialist too. If it was the same specialist, I was in deep shit. I hadn’t even thought of that. Hopefully they won’t put two and two together. As a shiver ran down my back, I veered away from her (I still hadn’t caught her name) and got inside my car quickly. Starting it, I pulled into traffic and drove home.

  As usual, it was empty. Shelly and Kevin had called last night telling us they wouldn’t be home till later this week. Austin had let out a whoop of joy as he bounded up to his room.

  Grabbing a soda, I went to my room and turned my computer on, telling myself that I was going to do some research for one of my papers, but I found myself clicking on eBay, checking out wire-trimmers and pick handlers—marketing tools for breaking and entering…

  Hearing voices downstairs, I clicked out of the website and closed my laptop. Making my way downstairs, I heard Mandy giggling, exclaiming, “We can get so much done now that we have the whole day off. I heard it was Mark Jenkins and his gang that did the prank.”

  “I heard it was Tyler Justins.”

  “Whatever, we all know who was behind it. He might not have done it, but I bet he knows who did: Tray Evans.”

  “Ooh, did you see him today? Tray Evans is seriously hot,” another girl moaned.

  Great. She’d brought the entire cheerleading squad to her house—our house—which meant I needed to leave. Now. I didn’t mix well with cheerleaders.

  “Taryn!” Mandy yelled excitedly, seeing me turning around on the stairs.

  Busted.

  Plastering on a fake smile, I turned back and said warmly, “Hey.” I was met with varying reactions: hostile, curious, and/or clueless.

  “We’re gonna have practice here since school and all…and I’m going to have our student council meeting this afternoon, okay?”

  “Uh…what do you want me to do?”

  “Nothing.” Mandy shook
her head, a dazzling smile on her face. “Just letting you know…in case…”

  “I want to cut and run,” I finished for her dryly.

  “Yeah…” The hesitation was enough. Mandy didn’t want me to leave, so that meant that Devon must have been on the student council. Devon would be heading over to the house and she was nervous about it.

  “What time is your student council meeting?”

  Relief flashed in her eyes as Mandy responded, “At 2:30.”

  Nodding, I murmured, “I’ll be back after lunch.”

  Darting back up to my room, I quickly changed clothes, putting on a white halter top and some tight blue jeans. I slipped on some sandals and grabbed my purse. When I walked back downstairs, the cheerleaders had gone out to our backyard—thank goodness—and I left through the front door, crossing to my car. Climbing in, my phone went off. Seeing Brian’s name flash across my screen, I put it away, silencing the ringer as I drove off.

  *

  Returning at two, I was surprised to see ten or more cars in our driveway and on the street. Apparently the meeting had started early or they’d come early to gossip. Probably the latter. Walking inside I was met with the same reaction as the cheerleaders: hostility, curiosity, and/or cluelessness.

  Fuck them. I shrugged it off as I zeroed in on where Mandy was. I found her in the kitchen, busying herself with drinks and food. Making my way through the crowd, I stared at one of the girls in the kitchen and said flatly, “Leave.”

  She ran.

  Mandy choked on a laugh. “Taryn, seriously. Friends are a good thing to have.”

  “I have friends,” I said coolly, hopping onto the counter. “So, where is he?”

  She sighed. “He’s on the patio with Grant and Amber.”

  “And where are you at?”

  “In a land of denial, telling myself everything is perfect except that my boyfriend cheated on me and is no longer my boyfriend.” She turned to me, her eyes misty. “Did you see them this morning? She was all over him.”

  “Anyone say anything?”

  “No, thank God. Everyone’s been talking about that stupid prank—and it couldn’t have come at a better time—but Amber hasn’t even talked to me. I think she’s on Jasmine’s side.”

  “Has she talked to Jasmine today?”

  “I don’t know, but Jasmine backstabbed me. You’d think Amber would say something to me, right? She’s my best friend.”

  “Yeah…friends have a way of not being your friends when they’re needed the most. I learned to take people with a grain of salt,” I murmured. “So, you want me to hang out for moral support?”

  “Yeah…and because the gang is having dinner here tonight.”

  “What? Mandy!”

  “I know, I know,” she groaned. “I couldn’t stop myself. Devon was talking to Grant and Amber in the dining room and everyone was watching. Next thing I know, I’m inviting them for dinner. I don’t know why—”

  “You did it because you don’t want them to know that you’re suffering. Makes perfect sense to me. Stupid though.”

  Mandy grinned. “I know. So…you have to be here tonight.”

  “It’s your whole crowd, right? Grant, Bryce, Amber, Devon, Jasmine, and Tray?”

  “Yeah. And Carter.”

  “Who’s Carter?”

  “Bryce’s cousin. He’s in town, he moved last year to Southington but he’s friends with all of us. Carter’s hilarious. You’ll love him, well…maybe.”

  A girl popped her head in the kitchen and said cheerfully, “Mandy! Guess what? Tray Evans is here with Carter Sethlers. How cool is that? Tray Evans isn’t even on student council and Carter Sethlers doesn’t even go to our school anymore. I’m so happy you had the meeting here.”

  “Anyone else with them, Shelley?” Mandy asked guardedly.

  “Nope. Just those two.”

  “Can you tell them that Grant, Devon, and Amber are on the patio?”

  “Sure.” Shelley flashed her a blinding smile, which matched her blonde highlights. “I think Patrice already did, but I’ll check anyway. Gives me an excuse to chat up Tray, hmmm?”

  When she left, Mandy sighed in relief. “Thank God Carter’s here.”

  “He’s pretty cool, huh?”

  “Yeah,” she murmured, her eyes vacant. She was thinking hard about something.

  “Look,” I spoke up, jumping off the counter, “student council and socializing isn’t my thing. I’m gonna camp out in my room. Keep your cellphone with you and call me if you need me down here ASAP.”

  “Okay. Thanks, Taryn.” Mandy sounded grateful as she wiped at some tears that were in the corner of her eyes. “Thanks.”

  I escaped, breathing lighter when I shut my bedroom door a second later. Falling on my bed, I turned my iPod on again, but felt my phone buzzing next to me. Lifting it up, I saw Geezer’s name on the screen. Flipping it open, I greeted warmly, “Hey, Geeze.”

  “Brian’s on his way to your place.”

  “What?!” I cried out in alarm, sitting up.

  “Yeah, he and Jace had a huge fight this morning. Like the cops were called even. Brian split before they showed up, but Grayley called and said Brian said something about sorting stuff out with you once and for all. Brent called from the gas station and said Brian was heading towards Rawley on the highway. Two plus two plus two equals six, babe.”

  “Geeze, don’t call me that.”

  “Hot stuff,” he said instead.

  I peeked through my window-blinds, but didn’t see his car. Great. Just great.

  “Okay.” I sighed. “Thanks for giving me the heads-up.”

  “Oh and Grayley told me to tell you that he’s got your stuff.”

  “Good. I’ll head over tonight.”

  “I’ll tell Grayley to bring it all here. Brian doesn’t ever show up here anymore.”

  “Okay. Thanks again, Geezer. I’ll see you tonight.”

  “Good luck, hot stuff.”

  “You can try all you like, Geeze, but your seduction is wasted on me,” I teased before hanging up.

  This day was turning out to suck more than I had imagined and most of it was my fault—cheerleaders, student council and now the ex-factor. Great.

  I dialed Jace’s number.

  “Hey, Terry,” he greeted wearily.

  “I heard.” It’s all I had to say. We both knew what the fight had been about and why—I’d asked him for this purpose.

  “Hey, ah…look, my little brother’s on his way to your place. You might make sure there are people around. I had some guys follow him, but—”

  “This is my fight,” I finished tiredly and I was tired. I’ve been gone for months now and Brian was still making me exhausted. “Are you…I heard the cops were called?”

  “I handled it, you know me and the authorities—we have a hate-hate relationship. But I’m good. If you need the guys to step in, just let them know.”

  “Got it,” I said faintly, hanging up. We both knew the conversation was over, it was pointless to say goodbye. Arming myself with a taser—for my own strength—I headed back down the stairs, but I slipped through the window of the bathroom rather than passing through the entire student body council which I could hear in the kitchen, living room, and dining room—they were everywhere. Rounding the house, I sat on the stoop by the street. Waiting…

  I didn’t have to wait long. I heard Brian’s car screech around a corner and slam to a stop right in front of mine.

  Part of me wanted to hop in and tell him to go to a park, where we could hash it out there, but Jace’s guys were coming to the house and wouldn’t know to go to the park. So I stood wearily, bracing myself when Brian slammed his door shut and strode angrily to me.

  Oh yeah. He was in a rage.

  “You bitch!” he snarled, still crossing the street.

  “And what’s new?” I shot back, standing my ground.

  “You gave him the fucking codes. Him!”

  “Yeah. I did.”
r />   He reached out and grabbed my shoulders, shaking me.

  Grunting, I twisted out of his arms and kneed him in the balls. As he doubled over, I said coolly, “You don’t get to touch me. Ever again.”

  “It’s not going to work,” Brian grunted. “You bitch.”

  “We’re over. I have no loyalty to you anymore.”

  “You love me, baby, you just want this future so desperately. When it doesn’t work out, you’ll be grateful that I didn’t give up on us.”

  “I’m not your girlfriend, I’m not your accomplice, and I’m not your fuck buddy anymore. I’m out—get that in your head—before I do
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