Rush me, p.22
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       Rush Me, p.22

         Part #1 of New York Leopards series by Allison Parr
Page 22

  “You’re mean. ”

  “Someone has to tell you the truth, Golden Boy. What else is on here?” I kept scrolling through the videos. “Someone made a tribute reel about you? Wait, there’s more than one? There’s a highlight reel?”

  “Give me my phone back!”

  I clicked on one of the links. It started with a full stadium cheering Ryan on. He ran through the stadium—again—then again—and then he started making touchdown passes and rushing the end zone set to loud, triumphant music. And then there were clips of fans. And at the very end, a small clip, maybe from that commercial, with the little boy sitting on the ground, playing with a football.

  I looked up at Ryan, my mouth slightly open. He looked at me warily, and when he spoke, his tone was guarded. “Are you going to make fun of that, too?”

  “Make fun of it?” I repeated, my voice slightly high-pitched. “Ryan, I think that’s one of the sweetest things I’ve ever seen. People do that for you? That’s amazing. ” The video struck a chord in me—the way Ryan must strike chords with the people who made it, the way he mattered to so many.


  “Yeah. People love you. ” I dragged the video backwards, freezing on the small boy. It was complete and utter hero worship. These thousands of people, completely obsessed with the stars of sports. It really was modern-day gladiatorial games. People had cheered just like this for their favorites in the ring. Right up until they cheered their bloody deaths. “You’re really lucky you weren’t born two-thousand years ago. ”


  “Well, because you’d probably be dead. Because you’d be a gladiator, of course,” I said absent-mindedly.

  Ryan started laughing. “Rachael, I have no idea how your mind works. ”

  Thinking about gladiators made me think of the manuscript in my office, the one on Alexander. I sighed. “You know, by the time Alexander the Great was twenty-five, he had conquered half his known world. He had just taken Babylon. Babylon. ”

  Ryan laughed even harder, pillowing his head on his arms against the table. “I can’t even tell anymore. Am I being insulted because I haven’t conquered Babylon?”

  “No, I haven’t. Alexander did, and you have fan videos, and I just live in a box in Brooklyn. ”

  “You’re totally and completely insane. ”

  The waitress appeared, swinging two hot plates down before us with the aplomb of an off-Broadway actress. “And here you are. One number five, one special, and one chocolate milkshake. Do you need anything else?”

  “Are you twenty-five?” Ryan asked, snorting laughter.

  The waitress aimed her bright smile to Ryan. “Um. . . I’m twenty-two. ”

  “Have you—” Snort, snort “—conquered Babylon?”

  “Shut up!” I whacked him on the shoulder.

  “Ow, that’s my passing arm! Thanks,” he said to waitress, who was slowly shaking her head and backing away. “I just wanted to be sure. ”

  “It’s not funny. ” I pulled my chocolate-strawberry creation closer and liberally applied the scoop of melting butter. It smelled like heaven, smooth chocolate and sweet fruit. “I’m squandering my life. ”

  “Hey, I want to try that. ” He tugged on my plate.

  “No, you called it girly. ”

  “Did I hurt its feelings?” He took a forkful, cutting through the tower of whipped cream, chocolate sauce clinging to his fork. “Wow. Maybe last night would have been better if you’d had this. ”

  “You’re not funny. Go eat your bacon. ”

  “Uh-huh. So, why are you squandering your life?”

  I would have sighed, but I was too busy chewing. Mmm, they did a good pancake here. Sometimes I thought diner pancakes didn’t have enough flavor, but this one packed a punch. “I don’t know. It’s just not easy. Not that I expected real life to be, but. . . ” I put my fork down, depressed. My parents and brother had made being grown ups seem so easy. “Do you ever feel a knot of. . . apprehension, and worry, and panic, like you’re never going to be good enough? Like you’ll never go anywhere?” I took in the millionaire twenty-six year old beside me. “You probably don’t. ”

  “Yeah, I do. ” An odd note was in his tone. “I feel that way right before games, sometimes. What if I disappoint my teammates? Or Coach, or the fans, all these people I don’t even know, who are relying on me. . . And I feel that way when I think about my mom. Like she would have wanted me to be doing something different. ” He met my gaze, vulnerability in his, and I could see that small boy who had been caught by the camera and never again let go.

  I wanted to cheer him up. “I guess Babylon’s safe. Neither of us is cut out to be Alexander. ”

  A corner of his mouth tugged up, and his face brightened like the sun had peeked out. “Oh, I don’t know. Maybe we have been squandering our potential. I should have conquered, like, the entire U. S. by now. ”

  “You probably could. ” I speared a strawberry and dragged it through chocolate. “You could turn the NFL into an army and sweep the country. ”

  He choked, loudly, on some hash browns, and I reached over to thump him on the back. “Where do you get these ideas?”

  “It would be perfect. You already have a football team in each major city, so they could all attack, all at once. No one would stand a chance. ”

  “More than one in some cities, and none at all in others. I don’t know that the divisions would play fair with each other either. ”

  “Well, then, someone would have to bring them in line. . . ”

  We spent the next half hour debating how the NFL could take over the United States. Then we got distracted when Ryan tried to explain how a certain formation would be a great attack, and we ended up watching half a dozen videos of the worst wipeouts of Ryan and the other Leopards.

  “So,” I said, after he’d done a pretty academic job of convincing me the Eastern Division would win in the all-out war for American domination, after the apocalypse when NFL teams turned into paramilitary. “You still won yesterday, even without those four guys. ”

  He looked up from his map. He’d requisitioned crayons and a paper children’s menu from our bewildered waitress, and gone to town, using different colors and symbols to represent different divisions. I now had a better grasp on the American Football Conference, the National Football Conference, and their various compass-named divisions than I’d gained from any of my father’s half-hearted explanations. “We were worried for the first half. Coach’s been kinda out of it lately. Danvers, he’s the running back, was in the crash, and he’s Coach’s nephew. Coach is good,” he said, earnestly, as though I needed to be reassured. “But he took it out on Keith when he shouldn’t have. ” He shrugged. “Keith can take it, but it meant Coach underutilized him. Or utilized him the wrong way, expecting him to make plays like Danvers. ”

  “That’s allowed?” I asked. “A coach on the same team as his nephew?”

  “Oh, yeah. There’s all sort of football families. The Matthews. The Barber twins. And you have to know the Mannings. ”

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