The Original Crowd by Tijan


  I never knew who my parents were; all I know is they gave me up and walked away. I grew up feeling unwanted. I filtered from foster home to foster home, spent some time in group homes here and there. I had to grow up quickly; I never had time for a childhood. I had to learn to take care of myself, because I was the only one I could count on.

  But I survived.

  I learned how to survive on my own and some lessons were hard—fucking hard.

  One of the skills I picked up early on was figuring out what role people took in cliques or groups—I learned who was who by watching people. I could tell who had the power in any dynamic. I tapped into that system; I made myself invaluable to them. I completely manipulated everyone, but it’s what I had to do. And I was damn good at it.

  When I was in the fourth grade, I started hanging out with Brian Lanser. He was gorgeous (okay, he was cute; fourth graders aren’t gorgeous). I know in that when you’re in the fourth grade you’re not supposed to even know that the opposite sex exists, but I did. I was always boy crazy and in the fourth grade, I had a crush on Brian Lanser. He introduced me to cigarettes, beer, condoms (not that they were ever used, I wasn’t like that), and I picked up my addiction—stealing.

  In the fifth grade, I switched foster homes again and left town. I noticed that there were the same cliques everywhere I went. The same kids. The same habits. The same behaviors. You had the God blessed ones—the rich and spoiled; the nondescript—the bland and invisible; and then my crew—the kids who all the other kids were scared of.

  By the time I was in the sixth grade, I learned how to steal. I was addicted to it. During a heist, I felt invincible; I was stronger, my senses were sharper, and it made me feel alive. After each theft, I fell more in love with it. I could get into anywhere, undetected, in the blink of an eye.

  I made friends fast by showing off my skills: pickpocketing a teacher, stealing from the popular dick or too-peppy cheerleader that everyone hated. It was a talent that everyone loved and it made me valuable in return. Plus—the guys liked me. I had a body they wanted (yes, boys were already getting horny at that age), but none had touched me, not then anyway.

  By the time I got to eighth grade, I had circled back and found myself in the same school as Brian Lanser and he remembered me. He reacquainted me with cigarettes, beer, and condoms (these still held some mystery to me).

  And I taught him how to steal.

  We were a match made in heaven. He was my first boyfriend, my first love. We were each other’s family.

  Then something happened. I was adopted in the beginning of my junior year. I had to leave the only family I’d ever known.

  And it all stopped.



  Yep, that’s my name. I just rolled my eyes, not pausing as I made my way down the school’s hallway. My sister could screech all she wanted—I wasn’t going to help her. Ever. At least not in the way she wanted me to.

  “Taryn,” Mandy shouted again, pitter-pattering her way to me. No one should run when wearing high heels, at least those high heels—they arched halfway up to her calves. That was my sister—she wore high heels, clingy tank tops, miniskirts, and on some days, a cheerleading outfit.

  My new sister was a cheerleader. I had been adopted into a family that raised those kinds of kids—the God blessed, rich kids. And Mandy was the epitome of the golden child. At least she thought so—blonde, petite, smart and popular by all accounts. She wasn’t the head of her clique, but she was one of them. You know the crowd. The highest of the high. The crowd where only a handful actually hold the power. The rest of the popular crowd just drooled to get into their circle.

  “Taryn, for God’s sake—stop!”

  I ignored her, opening my locker as I heard her stumble to a halt, panting slightly beside me.

  Eyebrows arched, I whistled. “Thought you were in shape there, sister. All those late night activities with Devon, right?”

  “I’m not here to talk about Devon,” she snapped. Ooh, Mandy was on a mission. I knew what she wanted, which meant I needed to distract her.

  “I heard Devon hooked up with Stephanie Markswith at Brent’s party,” I commented casually, grabbing my calculus book.

  “Not gonna work, sister dear,” she said scathingly, but it had. I saw the twitch in her eye. Oh yeah, she knew I was trying to distract her, but she couldn’t let it go. “There’s no chance in hell that he would hook up with her. No way in hell!”

  “Not what I heard.”

  “She’s not suicidal.”

  “She was drunk. Don’t think she was thinking all that clearly,” I remarked, shutting my locker and moving away.

  Mandy latched to my side and I could see she was seething from the corner of my eye. “The girl’s dead!” she said.

  “Better tell her that.”

  I saw Stephanie turn the corner up ahead, along with her mini-Stephanie-wanna-be friends tagging behind: Jackie, Slappy, and Curlie. Of course those weren’t their real names, that’s just what I called them. They were little anorexic bubbles with air inside. They had no personalities and their only mission in life was to get popular. Stephanie was their first rung on the ladder so that’s where they started.

  Stephanie wasn’t quite where my sister was in the social status, but she was almost there.

  Mandy saw her at the same time I did. She immediately veered off in her direction.

  I couldn’t stop a faint grin. Stephanie was about to be knocked down from whatever standing she had achieved and it was all because of me. I’m such a bitch, but the thing is, I had a reason to sic my sister on Stephanie.

  Yeah. I had lied. Stephanie hadn’t hooked up with Devon. I have no idea who she had hooked up with, but there was without a doubt something—note that I said something, not someone, she was just that nasty. I smiled knowing she was about to be knocked down; she deserved it. The first week of school—my new life in place with my new resolutions firmly in place—she spread a rumor that I stole our biology exam. She only spread that rumor because her boyfriend hit on me.

  Yeah, it might’ve been something that I’d have done in the past, but this time I was innocent. All of my history had been pulled up, making me look guilty as hell and didn’t help my innocence in the situation. They couldn’t prove it was me, but it didn’t matter.

  Instead of being suspended, I received detention for two months. But Stephanie had tarnished my name and all my intents and purposes to be a ‘good’ kid had gone down the drain.

  So I served my sentence, got pretty close with Mr. Hollings, the unlucky teacher who had pulled the detention straw, and I set about trying to reclaim my ‘good’ name again.

  After that incident, I declared war on Stephanie, but for the past few months things have been quiet…guess that’s over now.

  I could still hear Mandy’s screech as I ducked inside my classroom. I couldn’t help but chuckle.


  Glancing up from my lunch tray, I saw Tray Evans drop into the seat opposite mine. Grinning, so self-assured, he drawled, “Your sis preaches about some of your skills.”

  “Skills that are firmly stocked and locked. Go away,” I said coolly. I didn’t care who he was, I wasn’t going back to my old habits. No way in hell.

  “Come on. Why are you so hard-pressed? A girl like you could get laid, easily.”

  I fixed him with a steely glare. I knew who he was. He was the resident god of the school. Captain of the soccer team. Heartiest partier. He had his own personal supply of kegs, and, if you were really nice and kissed his ass, he’d even rent a few out to you. Tray Evans was the kind of kid that I hated the most—one of the God blessed. He had the family, the looks, the personality, and the money. He could char
m his way anywhere and he did. He was so goddamned lucky because he had everything, but he took it for granted. He chose to spend his days optimizing his level of fun.

  He was lazy. Pure and simple.

  I hate anyone who’s advantaged and takes it for granted—Mandy now excluded because she’s my sister.

  “A girl like me? And who do you think I am?” I asked coolly.

  There was a flicker of alarm in his hazel eyes. Yeah, he was back-pedaling a little now. “Chill. Didn’t mean anything by it—it’s just that…any guy would be with you. That’s it. Didn’t mean anything derogatory.”

  “Right.” It didn’t set right, the guy was lying. “What do you want?”

  Yeah, he was firmly reassessing me. I knew this wasn’t the girl that he had been told about. I hadn’t pulled out my confrontational bitchiness—yet. I’d played in the background, doing passive aggressive stunts (like with Stephanie), but right now…that wouldn’t fly. Not with Tray Evans. He ate those girls for breakfast and came back for seconds.

  “Taryn!” Mandy cheerfully greeted, landing in the seat next to mine. “Tray, hey!”

  “Matthews,” he greeted smoothly.

  “Is it true?” Mandy asked. “Is the party at your place?”

  “Thinking about it.”

  Catching me studying her intently, Mandy asked warily, “What?”

  “Why are you here?” I asked pointedly. She didn’t ever sit by me at lunch. I sat alone. It was my rule.

  She sighed. “Come on, Taryn. We need your help.”

  “That’s what this is about? Both of you coming to double-team me?”

  “Well…yeah,” she said simply.

  Tray leaned forward, propping his gorgeous muscled arms on the table, teasing me with a view of a tattoo peeking out from underneath his polo sleeve. I had a thing for tattoos. “Mandy says that you’re good at stealing stuff. We need something swiped.”


  “Taryn, why are you being so unbelievably difficult? Come on, you’re like a legend at this stuff. Mom and Dad had to attend conferences about this stuff just to prepare the family for you.”

  I went cold.

  Gasping, Mandy realized what she’d said.

  Coolly, I murmured, “Sorry that your family had to learn how to thief-proof their home before their new defected adoptee moved in.”

  “I didn’t mean it that way,” she scrambled, “I really didn’t, I’m sorry. Taryn—”

  But I wasn’t listening. I had already stood and crossed swiftly out the door and down the hallway. Without thinking, I found myself in the parking lot, my car keys dangling from my fingers, but as I got inside and put the key in the ignition, I stopped myself. What was I doing? It was times like these—when I felt so alone—that I missed Brian Lanser.

  The passenger door opened and Tray got inside. Shutting it, he leaned against it, his arms relaxed, hanging on the seat. “Going somewhere?”

  “Get out,” I clipped out.

  “Where we going?” he counted, grinning.

  I couldn’t help it. I found myself checking him out. He really was gorgeous—he had startling hazel eyes, eyelashes that girls would kill for, and full plump lips.

  He was a God blessed version of Brian Lanser. The difference was that Brian Lansers never got away with anything. They were hated just because they were associated with criminals. The Tray Evanses of the world pulled the exact same stunts and were worshiped. They were the most dangerous in my mind.

  “Like what you see.”

  “Oh, you got the package. We both know that, but you have shit for quality,” I drawled back, smirking.

  “You think so?”

  “All my life, I’ve dealt with boys like you. There’s no surprise there; you’re all the same.”

  Leaning forward, his face slowly getting closer to mine, his breath teasing my skin, he whispered, “You think so.” Tilting his head slightly, his cheek grazed against mine.

  I held firm. I had to, but I hated that I had to ignore the heat that spread through my body. I hated how I had to hold my breath so I wouldn’t jump across the seat and attack him.

  I whispered back, “I know so.”

  “Bet I could change your mind.”

  “Bet you could…if I wanted you to. But,” I pulled away and said flatly, “I don’t.”

  His eyes were laughing and the hazel color had darkened to an almost amber color.

  “So get out,” I delivered smoothly.

  He chuckled softly as he leaned against the door once again. “Listen…business only, okay?”

  I was silent, regarding him suspiciously.

  He continued, “Next week is homecoming and we play the Panthers from Pedlam.” Judging from my silence, he proceeded, “Anyway, last year they stole our game book and we got screwed. This year, it’s our turn.”

  “You want me to steal their game book?”

  “Mandy says you used to do this stuff. I respect that you don’t want to do it anymore, but we know that they’ve already been sniffing around campus. We caught a few of ‘em Friday night, they were trying to take our state championship flag from last year.”

  “You won the state championship?”


  “So the one loss didn’t hurt that bad,” I said sardonically.

  “It hurt enough. They had to revise an entire new game book.” I could hear the acid dripping from his voice.

  “You don’t even play football. Why do you care?”

  “Because this is my school. I take care of what’s mine,” he promised firmly.

  But this wasn’t my school. I didn’t have a school. Wait—Pedlam?

  “I know people at Pedlam.”

  “What? You go to school there or something?”

  “Yeah…a few times.”


  “So…I don’t know if I want to help you screw with a school that I’m probably more welcome at than I am here.”

  Tray sighed, rolling his eyes. “You’re Mandy’s sister. This is your school too, Taryn.”

  That was the first time I’d ever heard him say my name. In fact, until lunch, he’d never spoken to me.

  “Get out. I’m not helping you.”

  “What? Come on.”

  “Out!” I snapped, glaring fiercely.

  “Fine,” he clipped out, getting out and slamming the door behind him before stalking off.

  Watching him, I narrowed my eyes. Well, if I ever had hopes of climbing the social ladder, it just walked away with him.


  As I let myself inside the house—correction—the mansion where my new family lived, I dropped my keys in the bowl beside the coat-rack. The place was just massive. I already knew no one was home. My parents—it was hard to think of them as parents, I had to keep reminding myself not to call them Shelley and Kevin in my mind—were gone on a business trip. Kevin was either on-call at the hospital, or, like this weekend, he was at a conference and he always took Shelley with him, leaving me, Mandy, and Austin home alone. Austin, my new brother, was a fourteen year old brat, but I could beat him up so he left me alone for the most part. Our bonding was a work in progress.

  Grabbing a pop, I landed on the couch in the media room. I was having a hard time immersing myself in the movie I had put on when I heard the sound of voices coming from the kitchen. Groaning, I could make out Mandy’s friends’ voices.

  The gods of the gods.


  “She’s down here,” Mandy called out, bouncing down the stairs.
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