Rush me, p.14
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       Rush Me, p.14

         Part #1 of New York Leopards series by Allison Parr
Page 14

  The very end of the room took my breath away.

  An unending pane of glass made up the far wall, looking out over the bright green park. Autumnal sunset colors brushed over the treetops. Beyond them rose the towers and peaks of the Upper East Side, lights brightening in the falling dusk. To the right, Midtown blocked in the park, and to the left the lake and reservoir reflected the deepening blue of the sky.

  “It’s beautiful. ” I’d stood so close my nose almost pressed against the glass, and now I moved back so my breath wouldn’t cloud the window. Behind me, a loveseat and two armchairs were set up to admire the view. If I lived here, I’d never leave them. “How’d you get this place?”

  “My agent found it. I told him I wanted to live near nature. ”

  I shook my head, forcing myself to step away from the window and gather the bags I’d brought, walking the length of the room to enter the immaculate kitchen. “And you could afford it just like that?”

  “I’m lucky. ”

  “Really? I would’ve said overpaid. ”

  He groaned. “What do you have against football?”

  “Nothing. ” I shrugged defensively. “It’s just—I don’t think people who throw a ball around should be paid so much money. It should go to people who perform necessary jobs, like doctors and educators. ”

  He leaned against the wall, his arms crossed, his posture confident. “And movie stars don’t make millions?”

  “Yeah, but—at least they’re making art. ” Usually. Hopefully.

  “So what actors are doing is all right, but what I’m doing isn’t, even though we’re both providing entertainment for millions?”

  I hadn’t seriously expected him to make a counter-argument, especially not a valid one. “Okay, so—neither of you should be paid that much. ”

  His smile unfurled and he started to pace toward me, and I started to get a very bad feeling about this conversation. “Right. Because you think entertainment, that art, is unnecessary? In fact, why don’t we only have jobs that are strictly necessary? That would be a great world to live in, wouldn’t it?”

  He was not going to make me argue for a totalitarian dystopia. “No, of course art is necessary. I work in publishing, for God’s sake. But, look—most artists make pittance. The balance is completely unequal. It doesn’t make sense that you get so much more money. ”

  He stopped in front of me. “So, basically, you’re jealous. ”

  “No! Books—reading—it makes people learn. Readers engage with the text, they’re active, they’re intuiting; it’s not like sitting in front of a TV screen all day. What do sports do? I don’t think it’s deserving of the level of worship that you guys get. ”

  He shook his head. “How can sports not be engaging? It’s a team activity, and fans have whole communities and relationships born out of sports. ”

  “Yeah, but staring at a screen isn’t the same—”

  “And what about the players?” He rode roughshod over my words. “You think we don’t do any work? That we’re not active?”

  “Sure, you’re active, but you’re not mentally—”

  “Oh, right, because football’s all physical and there’s no mental prowess involved. ”

  I paused in the middle of tugging the wine and challah out of my bags and regarded him warily. Maybe it was time to disengage. “Where are your plates?”

  He found them for me, even selecting two fancy dishes to place the challahs on. “Why don’t you like sports?” he asked as he found the corkscrew. “Kind of un-American. ”

  I whittled the candles down before pushing them into their holders. “I just don’t. I’d rather read. ” My dad, actually, was decently obsessed with sports, and my brother David had played baseball for years. But I had no coordination, no strength or speed, and very little motivation to gain some when I’d rather be curled up with my novels. It meant that when they did drag me into a game of catch, I missed and I threw weakly and all in all, I ended up having a miserable time. “How come you don’t read?”

  “Because I’m an uneducated idiot who coasted through college on football. ”

  “Oh, shut up. ” I finished placing the forks and knives next to the plates. “I didn’t mean it like that. ”

  “Really? I’m pretty sure you said that to me. ”

  “Fine. Prove me wrong. Last book you read?”

  “The Corrections. ”

  I blinked. How very literary. And slightly suspicious, but hey, if someone asked me I probably wouldn’t admit I was currently in the middle of Seducing the King.

  Also, it was probably possible to be in the middle of The Corrections for a very long time.

  “Fine. I take back my aspersions cast on your literariness. ”

  He grinned at his wineglasses as he unloaded them from his cabinets, and I watched the controlled elegance of his arms a little too closely. “Yeah, and I’m afraid you’re going to remain a nerd. ”

  I glared at him. “Where’s Abe?” I asked pointedly. “He said he was going to show up early. ”

  Abe arrived not long before the others and at the same time as the caterers, so he hauled all the food up to the apartment. I transferred salads into bowls and arranged sandwiches on plates. The boys placed the wine glasses at all the seats and Ryan even pulled out a set of cloth napkins that looked like they’d never been used before.

  Within minutes of each other, goateed Keith and redheaded Mike arrived, Malcolm and Dylan on their heels. All of them greeted me cheerfully, complimenting me on my dress, and every last one dressed like they were going to church.

  It was very sweet, in a very strange way.

  After everyone sat down, they all turned my way. I tucked a loose thread of hair behind my ear. “So. Have any of you ever been to a Shabbat dinner before?” Except for Abe, they all shook their heads. I sucked in a nervous breath. “Okay. Cool. Well, this is going to be really informal. There’s just a couple prayers for bread and wine and candles, so, um, Abe and I are going to say them, and then we can eat. ”

  They all nodded and looked dutifully respectful. I had to bite my lip to keep from breaking into giggles. What was my problem? Was I freaked out because I was a bookish girl surrounded by jock boys, or because I was a Jew having Shabbat dinner with Gentiles?

  “Okay, then. ” I glanced at Abe, and we broke into the blessing over the candles, Hebrew lilting off our tongues while I struck the match. It lit with a hiss, and I held my hand steady until the wick took, a slow orange flame growing out of the blackened thread. Discarding the match for wine, I recited Kiddush. “Amen,” Abe finished, and several of the boys looked surprised and murmured the same. I raised my glass, and the Leopards joined in.

  After the prayer for wine, we removed the cloths that symbolically removed the challah from the table. I’d looked this up on Wikipedia. All I really remembered from our scattered several years of Shabbat during my childhood were the most basic prayers, the scent of melting wax, and donating money for charity into the tzedakah box—which was one of my mother’s old coffee canisters, painstakingly covered with felt cutouts.

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New York Leopards