Rush me, p.2
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       Rush Me, p.2

         Part #1 of New York Leopards series by Allison Parr
Page 2

  I was deliberating between flavors when my phone rang. Relieved by the excuse to stop smiling and nodding, I waved at Eva and wandered down the sidewalk. Surprise jolted through me when I saw the caller ID, and I stopped under a caged tree to answer. “Hey, Thomas. ”

  “Rachael! How are you?”

  The warm tenor of Thomas Brewer, unrequited love of my teen years, acted as a shot of comfort. I couldn’t remember the last time he’d called me—before junior prom, to see if I thought my friend Sara Milton would say yes if he asked her?—but our circle of high school friends had remained close, and we saw each other on breaks and holidays. Hearing his voice, I fell back into the easy patterns of familiarity we’d established at fifteen, a silly, perky smile crossing my face. “I’m really good. I’m in New York. What about you?”

  “Oh, yeah, I saw Kate a couple weeks ago and she mentioned you’d moved there. What are you doing?”

  I smiled at the branches above me, lit by a tall, elegant black street lamp. “I’m interning at Maples&Co. It’s great; I get to work with young adult books. What about you? Didn’t I hear you got a job working on video games?” With Benson Industries, one of the lead manufacturers of action-adventure games for kids age eight to twelve. But there was no reason to let him know that I accidentally-occasionally read his profile page.

  “Oh, yeah—I’m one of the creative architects. I help design the game plot. It’s really sweet. I grew up playing these games, so it’s awesome to work on them. You probably get that, working with kids’ books. ”

  “Yeah. ” I felt the same warmth that always flared when Thomas and I recognized a similarity. Of course, I didn’t exactly work with children’s, I did young adult and women’s fiction. Still. “It’s great. ”

  “Yeah. Listen, Rach, you’re coming home for the reunion, right? Zac and Liz and I are organizing a shindig the night before for our group. You in?”

  “Definitely. ”

  “Great. ” He listed off the dozen or so of our friends that were being contacted, just in case he’d left anyone out.

  “No, that’s everyone. Hey, Thomas, I’m really happy—”

  “One sec, I got another call. ” He paused for a second. “Oh, it’s my girlfriend. Hey, Rach, it was great to talk to you. See you soon!”

  He clicked off without waiting for me to say goodbye.

  Et tu, Thomas Brewer? My jaw hardened. Fine. Whatever. It wasn’t like I thought he would see me at the five-year reunion and fall madly in love with me. It wasn’t like every other girl in Ashbury hadn’t had a mad crush on him.

  God, I was an idiot.

  I headed back up the street, looking for Eva, but I didn’t see anyone sitting on the stoops. After several minutes, uncertainty started to bloom. Shouldn’t I have run into her by now? The buildings all looked the same, but I hadn’t walked that far while on the phone. Had I?

  She didn’t pick up when I called, and the uncertainty heightened to alarm as I looked at all the buildings. Damn. What was I supposed to do if I couldn’t get in touch with her? Go home?

  Laughter caught my attention. To my right, half a dozen girls dressed to the nines slipped into one of the buildings. Relief filled me and I hurried after them, falling in behind the last and following them up the stairs and into an apartment at the end of the hallway.

  I stopped just inside the door.

  Usually, I liked Eva’s theatre parties. The people all felt familiar, like favorite books, artsy and open and over-dramatic. Liza Minnelli played between top forty hits, cueing improvisational vocal riffs. But tonight, I could have mistakenly entered an adolescent clothing store. Music pounded through crowded, dimly lit rooms. A hundred perfumes and colognes thickened the air, an extra layer above the sweat and spilled alcohol. Over the heads of dozens of twenty-somethings I took in a wet bar and blasting speakers.

  This couldn’t be right. Maybe the host was a very successful Broadway actor? Or had a trust fund roommate? I was pretty sure apartments this large cost a currency of souls.

  A guy stumbled by me and grinned. I frowned back at him. He had broad shoulders and an oversized sports jersey. Method actor?

  After texting Eva, I made my way toward the bar, scanning the room for anyone I recognized. Everything looked off. A disproportionate amount of large, heavily muscled guys kept company with girls in tight dresses and high hooker heels, their hair long and flowing. I would’ve needed to straighten my curls with an industrial strength iron to fit in.

  With damp, nervous hands I took a rum and soda from the bartender, before looking for a quiet corner to hide in and chain-call Eva. I’d made the wrong choice; now that I was on the opposite side of the room from the exit, the mosh-pit had thickened, and the only hope for silence meant going deeper into the apartment. Turning my back on the pulsing bodies, I ducked down the first hall I found, hoping for a side room or bathroom to hide away in.

  The bathroom was locked, but the second door I tried swung open. I took a step forward, pausing as my sight adjusted to the darkness. I squinted. Furniture wasn’t shaped that way. . .

  Then I gasped, as the darkness separated into two figures. One tall and standing, the other—rather lower. Holy shit. I stared at the woman.

  “Do you mind?” she finally said.

  I snapped my eyes away and up, staring at the guy. Then I stopped. He was beautiful, like Michelangelo’s David, or the discus-thrower, and by the smirk on his face—or the girl on her knees—he knew it. I gawked at him, and his amusement deepened.

  “Well?” His pale eyes glinted. “Get in or get out. ”

  I gasped again and slammed the door. Low laughter filtered through.

  My cheeks burned. Good God. That was actually shocking, wasn’t it? Get in? Was he suggesting. . .

  My cheeks flamed hotter. Of course he was.

  I pushed back into the main rooms, snagging another drink for fortification. The door remained an unreachable goal, blocked by a hundred drunken, swaying bodies. How was I supposed to get out? Maybe I could place my hands together and burrow between people, like a fish. I bit back a hysterical giggle, steeled my shoulders, and took a step. A girl elbowed me backward. “Hey, watch it,” she shot, her Long Island drawl nasty. The guy at her side, who was closing in on three hundred pounds but missing a neck, glared at me with beady eyes. I stepped away, my gaze washing over the crowd. To my right, a fist swung through the air and connected with another man’s nose.

  What had I gatecrashed?

  A couple girls shrieked. High-pitched, girly shrieks. They teetered away from the altercation.

  Okay, definitely not a theatre party. I’d witnessed gossip and drama, but they were meant to be heard and seen. There were no thickheaded guys battling it out, nor whimpering girls with wide eyes acting like wounded deer.

  Well, now. This was awkward.

  Apparently I wasn’t getting out through the main room. Not with fists flying, and the crowd forming a solid mass. But I couldn’t handle the muddle of cries and music, and strangers. I wanted quiet, and bright lights, and I wanted to be wearing an oversized T-shirt, not a clingy green slip dress

  And I wanted my Ben and Jerry’s, damn it.

  Someone bumped into me. I assumed it was just one of the crowd, but when I shifted back, a hand followed, running up my side. A slurred voice sounded by my ear. “Hey, baby. ”

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New York Leopards