The original crowd, p.9
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       The Original Crowd, p.9

         Part #0.5 of A Whole New Crowd series by Tijan
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  gave me a faint grin. “I think she always wondered…about…”

  “I can handle myself.” I grinned, trying to be cocky, but looking away.

  Jace chuckled, running a hand through his tousled hair.

  “Nice of you to dress up to see me.” I couldn’t help myself, lightly punching him on the chest, feeling the cement wall of muscle beneath his bleached t-shirt.

  “Yeah.” He chuckled again. “How do you know Evans?”

  My mood sobered instantly. “He goes to my school.”

  “He runs your school,” Jace pointed out.

  “Yeah…I know what he’s got going on.”

  “Then you know he’s not a guy to take lightly.”

  My eyebrows arched. “That’s high praise coming from the likes of you.”

  “We’ve had a business deal going on. Only met him once though, but…he’s got this town nicely locked together.”

  “What do you mean?”

  “None of my business comes in or out of Rawley.”

  Thank God. I’d never spoke up against Jace, against what he did, but…I cared about him. Bottom line, I cared. And that meant there were many nights I had wished fervently for a different world. A different world for me, Brian, and Jace. But Jace most of all—because he’d never get out. And if he did, it’d be a bloodbath. Blood got you in, blood got you. So I just never said anything, he was in too far.

  “How’d he manage that?”

  “I don’t know, I’ve already said too much. He’s not like Brian, Taryn. Remember that.”

  “Meaning that my obsessive ex is the lesser of the two evils.”

  He grinned at that. “If the shoe fits, bitch.”

  I punched him for real this time and I probably hurt my hand more than him. “Hey.”

  He grabbed my hand, laughing softly. Raising it, he kissed the knuckles tenderly and said huskily, “You know I say it lovingly.”

  I pulled my hand away and smirked. “Right.”

  He turned to the door, opening it, but paused in the doorframe. He looked serious. “Listen, don’t worry about Brian. If you want him gone, which you must, I’ll make sure he stays away.”

  This was it. We both knew once that door closed, the line was drawn for us. No going back. No more crossing it, from either side. And a part of me wanted to crumble up and cry for the rest of the night. A part of me wanted to go with him. He was family, no matter what happened between me, him, or Brian. The three of us had been family.

  “Hey, Jace,” I called out, stopping him.

  Our eyes met. And held. We’d had that one night and like I’d said before, it brought up stuff that neither of us had ever admitted. Much less to ourselves than each other. But, this might be the last time…so…I walked over to him and kissed him. Tenderly. I didn’t stop the feelings this time.

  Jace put his arms around me, drawing me closer, as he returned my kiss.

  It felt just like it had before—for a moment, the world stopped. Because this wasn’t a cheated night taken in revenge. This was goodbye, so nothing was held back.

  And then I pulled away. Our eyes held again as he walked out.

  I shut the door. Returning to my room, I flicked a tear away from the corner of my eye and then curled underneath my blanket.

  *

  Mandy had left early for school. Through my open window, I’d heard Carter say goodbye as he got into his car. A second later I heard Austin pad by my doorway on his way to the kitchen. Moments later, I heard his friends pull up and honk their car horn.

  “Hey, dude. Hurry your ass up!” One of his friends must’ve called because Austin slammed the door shut and yelled back, “Shut the hell up. I’m moving.”

  I stayed put. Another second later there was silence.

  I rolled over, pulling my blanket over me.

  It was a few hours later when I got out of bed. I saw my phone blinking, knowing there were probably a few messages, but I just didn’t care. I didn’t care about school. Not today.

  After showering and grabbing a bite to eat, I dressed and walked out to my car. Getting in, I turned it in the direction of Geezer’s, knowing I’d forgotten to go to his place last night, but knowing he probably didn’t even noticed.

  An hour later, I looked at the old house again. This time the music wasn’t blaring from inside and it was quiet—almost too quiet. It was eerie.

  Walking inside, I sighed, smelling the ever-present aroma of his favorite substance and I found him curled on the couch…again. Greeting him like I always do, I dropped kicked the end of the couch and he fell off.

  Blinking in a drug filled haze, he croaked, “Tarter?”

  “You got something for me?”

  Frowning, he ran a hand through his hair, making it even shaggier. “Uh…like what?”

  “Like some plans that Grayley was supposed to give you.”

  “Oh.”

  He had no idea. Grayley might’ve just dropped them off and taken off. He dropped out of school the second it was possible and spends the majority of his time not on our realm of reality. Geezer wasn’t known for his ambition, but then again—who would be with a father who stopped caring about him at the age of three and a mother who was in jail for selling meth. His parents stopped caring a long time ago, so why would Geezer? At least that was his motto.

  Sighing, I moved into his kitchen and found the blueprints placed on the counter with my name written at the top of them.

  I heard a crash behind me and whirled around, breathless for a moment. I saw Geezer on the floor, his blanket wrapped around his feet.

  Helping him up, I asked, “You trying to walk like us adults? You should know better.”

  He laughed, a hand balancing on my shoulder as I helped him unwrap the blanket. “Oh, Tartar. What are we going to do without you?”

  “What have you been doing?”

  “Smoking up.” he answered.

  I laughed. “That’s the truth, but it’s no different from before.”

  “It’s different,” he said quietly, stumbling back to the couch. Curling back up, he said again, “It’s a lot different.”

  Then he fell asleep.

  Standing there, I frowned down at his form, seeing the innocence that’s only present when asleep.

  I moved into the kitchen and dialed Grayley’s number.

  “Yo,” he greeted. I could hear sound in the background.

  “You’re at school?”

  “Yep. Aren’t you?”

  “I’m at Geezer’s, got your present.”

  “Oh. Hey, I got all I thought you’d want. You know, tried to be comprehensive.”

  “Comprehensive?” I grinned, leaning a hip against the counter. “The English teacher must be hot this year.”

  “It’s the T.A.” he said, actually serious.

  “Geezer’s in rare form.”

  “Yeah.”

  That was it. Not that I’d expected more. Grayley was pretty tight-lipped about his best friend, the bond between them had always been there, since they were kids. I felt that Grayley had taken the protective older brother role.

  “Anything I should know about?” I asked lightly.

  “Nah. I got it covered. Go do your own thing, we’ll manage.” I think he meant it jokingly, but I heard an edge in his voice.

  “Alright—” I faltered, hearing him hang up abruptly.

  Leaving, I made sure there was some food in Geezer’s kitchen and was surprised to see it full. Moving back out, I took a last look at him before crossing out to my car. By the time I got back to Rawley, I could make my last class: psychology. Guess I might as well. It would give me a chance to check on how Mandy’s doing.

  *

  Moving through the hallways, I ducked around a group of giggling girls and jocks who decided the hallway was a perfect place for wrestling. Dropping my bag in my locker, I grabbed my books and headed towards my classroom. Mandy was already seated at a table with Sophie—I think??—I recognized her from the student c
ouncil meeting at the house the other day. And Jasmine was across the room, laughing with Bryce, her hands lingering on his arm.

  Hmm.

  Mandy was avidly glaring at them.

  Dropping into a chair at one of the back tables, I was surprised when I recognized my science lab partner in the other seat.

  She gave me a tentative smile.

  Oh hell.

  Sticking out my hand, I said, “I don’t know if we’ve actually ever been introduced. My name is Taryn Matthews.”

  A squeal escaped her mouth as she extended her hand. “Molly Keeley. I’m your—”

  “Science lab partner. I know that.”

  “Yeah, and I’m in your health class.”

  Wait. “I’m in health?”

  “You skip for study hall.”

  “I thought I had study hall.”

  “You should probably tell your teacher that.”

  “Oh.” I sat back, surprised. “Thanks.”

  “No problem. We’re playing volleyball next week, so it should be fun.”

  “You play volleyball?”

  “Only with my family. I can’t wear contacts and the glasses—they don’t help.”

  “Right. Your microscope glasses.”

  My eyes widened as I realized what I’d just said. “Oh, Molly, I didn’t mean—”

  Shrugging, she grinned. “They do look like microscopes, but my mom won’t let me get new ones. They’re not cost-effective.”

  “Whatever. They save your social graces,” I cut in. Again not thinking. “Oh my God, I’m so sorr—”

  This time she laughed whole-heartedly. “You’re not what the rumors say you are.”

  “That I’m a stone cold bitch.”

  “Yeah, that. And that you screwed Tray Evans.”

  “Where?” Could I not think before I talked? What was wrong with me?

  She listed them off with her fingers, “In the school parking lot, in the parking lot at the diner, at one of his parties, at Rickets’ House, and in his car.”

  “Oh. I’ve been busy.”

  She giggled, ducking her head suddenly.

  I looked over and saw Tray staring back, kneeling down beside me.

  “What?” I asked.

  “Two days,” was all he said.”

  I flushed in annoyance. “Yeah. So?”

  “You going to be ready in two days?” he demanded. And now I remembered detested him—I still did, no matter how amazing he was in bed.

  I snapped testily, “Ask again and I won’t be.”

  He smirked. Yep, he was still detestable. “Don’t get all worked up. We had a deal, a business deal. I need to know if you can deliver your end of the deal.”

  “I’m ready to go on my end.”

  “Whatever.” He stood up. “Saw Jace Lanser leaving town last night. Stopped at the diner for a burger.”

  I stood also. “Yeah. So?”

  He backed off, taking his own seat across the room, the entire class now listening avidly. “Nothing. The guy’s a loser.”

  “Spoken like a true horse’s ass,” I shot back. Jace was family. No one talked bad about my family.

  Mandy gasped, “Taryn.”

  Jasmine smirked, but there was still a note of fear in her eyes.

  “Spoken like a true bitch’s ass,” he retorted, sitting back, looking relaxed and arrogant.

  “One that you’re hot for,” I said coolly, seeing him draw his breath in at my words. Before he could reply the teacher strode in frantically. “Sorry, class, so sorry I’m late.”

  I sat back down and the rest of the class reluctantly turned their attention to the teacher.

  Molly leaned over and whispered, “You are officially my idol. Just thought I’d share my reverence from this day on.” I cracked a grin at the litany. Microscope girl had a sense of humor.

  After class, Molly walked with me out the door and towards my locker. I shot her a glance, wondering what was up, but she stayed at my side and even waited while I grabbed my bag.

  “Something up?” I finally asked, noticing glances from the other students.

  She shifted nervously on her feet. “Uh…well—”

  “Out with it.”

  “There’s a party this weekend. I think Justin Travers is throwing it and I was wondering—”

  I had no idea who Justin Travers was. Pretty sure I couldn’t help her.

  She continued, “You seem really, really nice, no matter what they say, and I was wondering…would you go with me? Or get me an invite?”

  “Why?”

  “Because Justin Travers is gorgeous and I’ve had the hugest crush on him since the third grade. One time he gave me his lunch. It was awesome.”

  “I don’t know who he is.”

  “He plays soccer and he’s on student council and he’s super gorgeous. He knows your sister, Mandy.”

  “I still don’t know who he is.”

  “Yeah, but I’m sure you’ll be invited to his party. You’re one of them, but you’re cool and nice. You can introduce us.”

  I’d had enough. The girl was going to get crushed.

  Shutting my locker, I said bluntly, “Listen. I’m not saying this to be mean, but if he’s what you make him sound—he’s not interested. In you at least. He’s going to go after little cheerleaders who give it up to be popular and have the IQ of a poodle. That’s not you.”

  She was stunned and through her microscope glasses, I could tell she wasn’t even blinking.

  I didn’t know what else to say, so I turned and walked outside towards my car. I might have crushed her, but it was nothing compared to what he would’ve done.

  “That was pretty cruel.”

  Turning I saw a skinny guy with waxy hair glaring at me.

  “Who are you?”

  “You can’t just treat people like that. It’s…It’s,” he sputtered, “inhumane.”

  “She’s not a dog and what I did was save her from being humiliated,” I remarked.

  “You really are the bitch everyone’s saying you are,” he called after me as I passed him.

  I shrugged and gave him the finger, grinning as I walked to my car.

  *

  Wednesday passed without incident. Mandy acted like nothing was
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