Rush me, p.18
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       Rush Me, p.18

         Part #1 of New York Leopards series by Allison Parr
 
Page 18

  “Whatever. ” He yanked open the fridge door and grabbed a beer. I opened my mouth to say something, anything else, and realized the tip of my tongue was, for once, empty.

  So I suited up and left his apartment. And it took every ounce of will power not to slam his ridiculously expensive door.

  Chapter Eight

  “I have to admit,” John said Sunday afternoon, “I was surprised when you called. ”

  “What can I say?” I told him as we walked down the stadium steps. “I do love a good game. ”

  The only football field I’d ever set foot on had belonged to Ashbury High, and I’d been only twice: at graduation and for Homecoming my senior year. My friend Carly lost out on Homecoming Queen to Sophie Salisbury. We weren’t too surprised. Carly had the science kids, the actors, and the artsy students, but Sophie had the jocks.

  In college, we’d been too busy getting liberal arts degrees to look at the sports teams.

  The Leopards’ Stadium was in Chelsea, built over rail yards between Penn Station and the Hudson River. It had been raised in the ’90s, partly for an Olympic bid that fell through. I’d never been inside, and the size of it shocked me. Seventy-five thousand seats rose sharply around the long stretch of bright green turf. Tiny people streamed into the neatly divided sections, mere blurs of predominantly red and black. Above, white light fixtures and advertisements gleamed down at us, while screens were interspersed throughout the stadium.

  John led me through the slowly moving crowd to his family’s season seats, saying hello to one or two people on the way. I sat down, feeling a little nervous and uncomfortable. Going out with John just to prove to Ryan that I did watch football—when I didn’t—and that I was happy using a guy for sex—when I wasn’t—was much less appealing when I was actually on the date. “So,” I asked once we were settled. “Do you follow football? Closely?”

  He tossed popcorn into his mouth. “Close enough. My dad took me to a couple games when I was younger. Now, of course, I’m usually too busy with work to come watch them. It’s very time-consuming, after all. This week I had to meet with Karl Peppington—you know, of the Park Avenue Peppingtons—but I didn’t mind, since we really hit it off. He thought I was very funny. You should have seen. . . ”

  My brain closed down as he started on about the ad agency. When I’d first met him, I’d found his unceasing conversation engaging, but by the ill-fated third date I’d realized that John never paused to ask me anything about my job, except as a mere nicety, and that he cared more for an audience than a partner in conversation.

  This had been a bad idea. I couldn’t exactly show Ryan up when he wasn’t here to see John with his arm thrown casually around my shoulders.

  But that wasn’t how I should be viewing this. No, instead this was a practice in sexuality, proof that I didn’t have walls like China and that I could sleep around with the best of them. No prudes here!

  Uh-huh.

  John stopped speaking when the announcer started. The players jogged onto the field, streaming through sparklers and a fog machine and a line of jacketed men in matching colors. Around me, the crowds cheered on cue, with all the energy and delight a Broadway audience would pour into a standing ovation, even though the performance hadn’t even started.

  All the Leopards looked the same; black jerseys with huge padded, puffed sleeves that made their waists look narrow, marked with pale gold numbers that matched their gleaming helmets. Shimmering crimson fabric molded to their thighs and backsides before tucking into high black socks. I searched for anyone I recognized, but they were small and uniformed and unknown.

  “Which number is Ryan Carter? And Malcolm? Lindsey. ”

  John’s expression quite clearly stated that if he hadn’t wanted to get in my pants, he’d consider me too dumb to keep around. “Seven and eighty-three. ”

  I nodded, trying to pick them out of the crowd. I had no luck until a regulated voice boomed across the field, informing the ladies and gentlemen of the audience that we would be standing for the national anthem. We did and the players stopped moving, their helmets tucked under their arms.

  Ryan’s gold hair flashed in the sun, and I smiled faintly, as his helmet matched. I supposed singing “The Star-Spangled Banner” made sense, since it was a war song and the players looked like they would be marching off any minute. Then, as the song peaked and Ryan’s hair glowed and my mind wandered, I wondered if there were any world championships games between the States and England where we sang our anthems, and if that ever struck anyone as awkward, since ours was essentially about bombing British ships two-hundred years ago.

  The song ended and I reined my mind back in.

  “Where’s the rest of them?” I asked John as the men gathered in the field, as a coin glinted in the air. Ryan crouched down, his pants stretched tight against his muscles, and I swallowed.

  “What are you talking about?”

  I opened my mouth, and then closed it, realizing I hadn’t a clue what Keith and Dylan and Mike and Abe’s last names were. I’d recognized Malcolm’s closely shorn head, but missed the others. “Aren’t there other players?”

  “Of course there are. ” John didn’t bother looking at me. “Fifty-three. But only eleven start. ”

  “Oh. ” Who knew?

  A Colt kicked the ball, and it spun through the air, the men scattering like marbles. If life resembled urban fantasy novels, football would be about shape-shifters and I’d be watching a battle between horses and big cats right now. “I heard they’re out some of their starting players. Is that bad?”

  John laughed. “Of course it is. Don’t you read the paper? Danvers and Gutierrez and two linebackers were in a car crash right before the opening. But Carter and Lindsey are still in, and those two are indestructible. ”

  Down below, the game stopped and the teams separated into huddles. I searched until I found number seven thick in his clump. He said something, heads nodded, and the group broke.

  I hadn’t realized how often these pauses would occur. Each quarter lasted fifteen minutes, theoretically—except those fifteen minutes kept stopping, as each coach was given three time outs per quarter. Then the clock would start and go for thirty, forty seconds—and the whistle would blow.

  It’s hard to love something if you don’t understand it, and to me this was a field of men scrambling about, leaping and falling, legs tumbling through the air before they smacked into the ground. It was flailing, outstretched arms and legs scissoring across the field. The men charged around the turf like gladiators trapped in their coliseum, fighting until death or the emperor’s whimsy. Number seven moved swiftly and confidently, catapulting the ball through the air with an arm like iron. I might not have understood the game, but I hardly took my eyes off him.

  Until he was buried by two opponents.

  Everyone groaned. Even John, beside me, leaned back in his chair with a grunt. I tugged at his arm. “What just happened?”

  “Ryan fumbled. Should’ve passed to Tsuga when he had the chance. ”

  “No, I mean—is he okay?”

  John gave me a funny look. “It was just a sack. ”

  Silly me. Here I’d thought he’d slammed into the ground hard enough to break a limb.

 
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ALLISON PARR SERIES:

New York Leopards