Rush me, p.16
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       Rush Me, p.16

         Part #1 of New York Leopards series by Allison Parr
Page 16

  In another hour or so, the guys dragged themselves to their feet. They all thanked me, rather like you’d thank your friend’s mom when she cooked dinner for you, and filed out, laughing and joking. I made as though to follow, when Ryan caught my elbow. He cocked a brow at me. “Help me clean up. ”

  I would have crossed my arms had he not been in possession of one. “Seriously? I organized dinner and set everything up. ”

  He curved his lips just the tiniest bit.

  “Fine. ” I sent a wave and smile at Abe as he shut the door. “I’ll help, you lazy jock. ”

  The door clicked shut. We were alone.

  Chapter Seven

  “So,” Ryan said as we cleared the table. “Why did that make you so uncomfortable?”

  “What?” I brought a stack of plates into the kitchen. “What do you mean?”

  He shrugged, snagging our glasses and emptying the last of the wine into them. He handed mine back to me as I sat on one of the counter stools. “Not the actual dinner. I mean when you were doing your prayers. Your shoulders were clenched, and your eyes kept flickering. What were you so freaked out about?”

  I took a large swallow of wine before answering, startled into honesty. “I’m not that used to talking about Judaism. I’m not actually that religious—I’m cultural. Everyone seemed very relaxed but. . . I don’t know. I guess I’m not used to people paying so much attention and. . . ” I drifted off, shrugging. “It made me self-conscious. A little uncomfortable. ”


  Even that question made me uncomfortable, and I squirmed on my stool. “Oh, I don’t know. Because we were speaking in Hebrew, maybe. Because I was afraid of messing up in front of Abe. ”

  He tilted his head. “What’s that mean? How could you mess up?”

  I waved my hand, feeling silly. “Well, Abe’s a real Jew. I’m only a real Jew when I’m surrounded by”—goyim—“non-Jews. Otherwise, I’m just a mutt. ” I’d never really tried to express this before, and I fumbled for the words. “I guess I was worried I’d screw up pronunciation or the prayers around Abe, and that you guys would be—oh, I don’t know. It’s just strange to have someone from outside your culture watching your ceremonies. Like you’re performing or something. ” I winced, wishing I had just changed the topic.

  He blinked. “Wow. Do you feel that much pressure about most things?”

  I hid behind my wine glass, trying to figure out if he was mocking me. When his face remained open, I responded. “No. Maybe. Why, is that bad?”

  His lips curved up, sympathetic humor lighting up his face. “You might spontaneously combust. ”

  I took another sip. “It’s a possibility. ”

  He shook his head and tossed the last of the silverware into the dishwasher. “I thought it was interesting. And everyone wanted to be there, Rach. Church is a big part of a lot of the guys’ lives. We were curious about what Abe does. ” He shrugged. “I’ve never heard Hebrew spoken before. ”

  My shoulders relaxed, and for the first time since we’d started this conversation, I sucked in a big breath of air. “I don’t really know it. It’s all memorization. ”

  He nodded. “Yeah, I did some of that for my grandparents. They’re Irish, so I learned the basics. ”

  I took a stab. “Irish. . . Catholic?”

  He laughed. “Good thing you got that right. ”

  Oh. Yeah. The Irish Catholics and Irish Protestants had quite a lot of rough history. Time to stop saying terms simply because I’d heard them a lot. “So you speak some Gaelic?”

  “No, they actually call it Irish. ”

  Terminology: 2; Rachael: 0. “Say something. ”

  He looked a little uncertain, and opened his mouth twice before anything came out. “Bhí dinnéar blasta. ”

  “Dinner was a blast?”

  He grinned at me. “Dinner was delicious. ”

  I laughed. “Thanks. Though I just ordered a fixed menu from a deli. ”

  He tilted his head. “Did you end up paying for it yourself?”

  This time, it was my mouth that opened and closed. “Uh—”

  He shook his head. “Thought so. I swear, Abe has a mind like a sieve. How much was it?”

  I considered. I had initially been furious at dropping two hundred dollars I didn’t have on a meal I hadn’t planned, but taking Ryan’s money felt like charity. “You know, it’s not a big deal. ”

  He dealt me a dry look. “Save it. We both know you’re going to tell me, and I’m going to pay you back, so there’s no use playing like we won’t. ”

  And there went two hundred dollars and our fragile peace. “I’m not playing. And I don’t need your money. ”

  He snorted and headed for the folded brown bags that the food had come in. From one, he withdrew a crumpled receipt that I probably should have claimed earlier. After glancing at it, he took a handful of twenties from his wallet and held them out to me. “Are you going to be gracious and take it, or are we going to fight about this, too?”

  Poverty fought with pride, and won. “Thanks,” I muttered, and then sighed, and then tried for an apology as I folded the bills into my purse. “I was born without the gracious gene. ”

  His mouth quirked up. “Yeah. I kind of noticed. ”

  I tried to scowl at him, but his grin was too infectious and I laughed instead. “Yeah, well. I’m graceful in other ways. Theoretically. ” I thought about it, and realized he’d been right earlier, when he told me he didn’t remember hearing any apologies. “I’m sorry about what I said when we first met. About damaging your grey matter. I didn’t realize that was such a serious problem. Have you ever been hurt?”

  “Oh, yeah. ” He sounded so nonchalant. “But I’ve always finished the season. ”

  “I don’t get it. If it’s so dangerous, why do you play?”

  He smiled at the dishes as he finished them. “You sound like my mother. ”

  “I’m sorry, I know most people probably get it straight off the bat. I just don’t. Your mother doesn’t like you playing?”

  He took a sip of wine, and then a larger one. “Didn’t. ”

  I opened my mouth to say something snarky, to ask if she’d changed her mind once he’d hit the big leagues, and then I closed it. “What happened?”

  He smiled at me, the first soft smile I’d seen out of him. “She was like you. Book smart. A smart-ass. Didn’t like sports. ” He paused. “I was seventeen. ”

  I swallowed. “I’m sorry. What happened?”

  “Breast cancer. ” He was silent a moment. “You ever get really hurt?”

  Emotionally, I thought, but didn’t say it, nodding instead. That’s why I had walls; to keep from getting in too deep, to keep from getting wounded. Better that way.

  “You only get hurt that badly when you’re doing something that matters. Something impossible. Taking a risk. Investing yourself. And ball’s worth it, the rush you get, the exhilaration. . . It’s worth a couple injuries. ”

  “Really? It’s the game itself? I would’ve thought the fame and money drew you in. The adulation. ”

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New York Leopards