Rush me, p.15
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       Rush Me, p.15

         Part #1 of New York Leopards series by Allison Parr
Page 15

  When I finished my Shabbat-for-dummies service, everyone dropped the respect and started grabbing at the food. I let out a breath and my shoulders relaxed. I rolled my neck and started to load my plate. I couldn’t remember the last time I’d sat around a table for anything resembling a home cooked meal. Eva and I spent a lot of time eating take-out dim sum on the couch, making pasta, or consuming the bagels I bought by the dozen.

  Keith polished off his third sandwich and decided to pull me into the conversation. “So are you coming to our game on Sunday?”

  Across from me, Ryan snorted softly. “What?” I lifted my chin at him. “Why is that funny?”

  “She doesn’t like the game,” he told the others. “There’s no way she’d go. ”

  The others regarded me with a mixture of puzzlement and disbelief. “What do you have against football?” Dylan asked.

  “Nothing. ” I wanted to glare at Ryan for throwing me under the bus, but instead I focused on the slightly hurt expressions turned my way. “At all. In fact,” I decided rashly, “I will be there Sunday. ”

  Ryan put his fork down sharply. “Impossible. We’re sold out. ”

  “Doesn’t matter,” I told him. “My date already has tickets. ”

  All the guys perked up at this. And they say girls are gossipy. “You’re going with a date?” Keith crowed. He grinned over at Ryan, who I refused to look at, covertly or otherwise. “Who’s the lucky dude?”

  Uh-huh. Because I wanted to talk about my love life with a table full of guys. Time to turn the table. “This guy I’ve been seeing from the ad agency I temp at. What about all of you?” I asked, arching a brow. I’d worked for three years before I could do that, with the single-mindedness I had applied to memorizing cards. “I’m sure the Leopards have very discriminating taste. ”

  They immediately started needling each other. Mike shoved Keith’s shoulder. “Keith only dates models with very low IQs. ”

  Keith pushed him back. “Says the guy who won’t even date someone for more than one month. ”

  “Dylan’s entire extended family is involved in his dating life. ”

  Dylan shook his head. “You think being an interfaith kid is hard? Try being biracial. ”

  “Hey. ” Keith looked at me. “So do you have to marry a Jew? I met Abe’s mom once, and she was on him about that. ”

  I laughed as Abe winced. “Nope. Judaism’s a matriarchal line. My theoretical kids are automatically in. ”

  “Malcolm,” Mike continued, “is disgustingly well-adjusted, and even bought Bri—that’s Briana—a ring. ”

  I turned toward him, delighted. “Really? Do you have it on you?”

  Keith snorted. “Why would he have it on him?”

  Because Hollywood told me guys nervously carried rings around for weeks before proposing.

  Malcolm’s long lashes swept down. “Er—here. ” He handed me a box from his pocket.

  The boys roared with surprise and happiness. Dylan grabbed Malcolm’s shoulders and shook him. This appeared to be some form of congratulations. I opened the discreet silver box.

  A huge diamond glared up at me from the center of the ring, smaller ones sparkling on either side of it. The rocks were giant, blinding, and if I’d seen them in passing on some other girl’s hand, I would have considered it gaudy. But seeing Malcolm’s shy smile, and knowing this ring would be presented to a girl, and that she would say yes (one assumed) and that they were in love. . . “It’s beautiful. ” I handed it back to Malcolm. “Do you know when you’re proposing?”

  He shook his head, looking pleased at my cooing and embarrassed by his teammates. “Haven’t really planned that out yet. ”

  “How did you two meet?”

  He started to launch into the story, but his teammates’ snickers and friendly elbowing changed his mind. “We haven’t gone over Ryan’s standards yet. ”

  That wiped the grin off Ryan’s face and neatly transferred everyone’s attention to the quarterback. They laughed as Ryan kept his expression aloof and took a long sip of wine. “I don’t know what you’re talking about. ”

  Keith smiled, and not very kindly. “You should see the way girls cluster around Ryan. Mr. Angelface. The rest of us have to wait for him to pick one before they’ll give us the time of day. ”

  I arched a brow at Ryan.

  “Ryan will sleep with anything with a—ahem,” Abe coughed, catching himself. “Especially after a game. ”

  Mike laughed. “But he’ll only date society girls. Gossip column girls. ”

  “And then he’ll dump them a couple months in. Like clockwork,” Dylan added.

  Mike clicked his tongue sadly. “Commitment problems. ”

  “Shut up. ” Ryan’s face turned stony.

  “Yeah,” Malcolm said. “We have a lady present. ”

  Every head turned my way. I could see the word “lady” turning over in their minds. I smirked back at them. I had a brother. I knew they’d already been censoring themselves.

  Mike nodded after a moment. “True. She’s wearing pearl earrings. Definitely a lady. ”

  “Thanks. ”

  “Just think she should know what she’s getting into,” Keith muttered into his food, and Ryan whacked him upside his head.

  I pretended I hadn’t heard. “So,” I said, and then floundered as they stared at me. “How about your game on Sunday?”

  Then I almost burst into convulsive giggles, since I’d never used a how ’bout them Red Sox? gambit before. My conversation changers were usually how goes that musical? or read any good books lately?

  Also, I wasn’t in New England anymore. I should probably avoid mentioning the Red Sox or the Patriots altogether.

  The guys were still silent, looking down at their food and avoiding my gaze, which hadn’t been my intention at all. I frowned and tilted my head at Ryan.

  He put down his sandwich and answered flatly. “Four of our starting offensive-players were injured last week. ”

  “We lost Monday’s game. ” Mike picked at his napkin. “Should’ve been a sure thing. ”

  “Basically, we’re fucked,” Keith said, and then looked at me. “Sorry. ”

  “No, we’re not,” Ryan said, and everyone looked at him. He jerked his head at Malcolm. “We have the best wide-out in the division. Rookie’s a genius. Dylan can outrun anyone. ”

  Keith sat back in his chair. “Couch is gonna treat me like Danvers. ”

  Ryan and Malcolm exchanged a glance. “Couch is freaked out,” Ryan said. “But don’t worry about it. I’ll talk to him. ”

  I looked around at their serious faces. “Are there a lot of injuries?”

  They laughed, the sound incongruous with the injuries they then listed off. Not just sprains and breaks, but head injury after head injury, concussions that led to brain damage. They talked about new studies on Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy, which led to memory loss and depression and even dementia. I listened in appalled fascination as the list grew. “I don’t get it. This is common?”

  They all shrugged and looked at Ryan. “Most guys leave the league with permanent injuries. ” His eyes were flat and far away, like he could see the future of all these young, strong men. Then he shook his head and changed the subject.

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