Rush me, p.25
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       Rush Me, p.25

         Part #1 of New York Leopards series by Allison Parr
Page 25

  “’Course not, he’s a coward,” Keith whispered back.

  I studied her. Her expressive eyes and full lips looked vaguely familiar. “Wasn’t she. . . ”

  “Yup,” Keith said. “Briana Harris. Actress in Boomerang. Malcolm met her when he was with the Chargers three years ago. She moved out here for grad school. Something about hydraulics. ”

  “Smart and gorgeous. ”

  He scowled grumpily. “I know. I keep waiting for her to dump him. ”

  I laughed. “Aw, poor Keith. What about you?”

  “I am way too evolved for relationships. ”

  The candles melted, hot wax dripping down, wicks burning away until they danced on a pool of molten wax. Gold encased the black strand, shrinking, flickering, until it disappeared in a wisp of smoke. Full plates crumbled into crusts and torn leaves, while people yelled and laughed and interrupted each other. There was no silence in this room, no calmness or restraint. The guys were so comfortable with each other, so close, that it seemed like it didn’t occur to them not to treat the girls any way other than inclusively. Outside my own family, I’d never been anywhere with such a cohesive mentality.

  Abe turned to me over the small pieces of pie that finished off the meal. The guys had just taken a break from their lengthy discussion of the upcoming Sunday game. I imagined this discussion as an ongoing conversation throughout the season, occasionally dropped for a different tangent, but always brought up when two or more players reconvened. “Hey, I totally spaced. The week after, we’ll be in Oakland. My family’s gonna come up to see me. ”

  For a minute I didn’t know what he was talking about, and then I remembered next Thursday was Rosh Hashanah. “Oh, no problem. So you’re going to get to see them?”

  “Yeah. We’re going out Thursday, anyway, to get used to the time-difference, so it’s no big deal. It’s too bad you’re not coming. You’d love California. ”

  I could contribute to their giant economy. “How did such a large place go so broke?” I mused.

  The rest of the table winced and Ryan, sitting to my left at the head of the table, kicked me. Then everyone’s expressions glazed over as Abe launched into a long speech about taxes and Briana, also a native Californian, contributed a dissertation length diatribe on the effects of direct ballot initiatives. “What’s to be expected,” she argued against no one, raising her voice over Abe as he mourned Apple paying its taxes in Nevada, “when people keep voting the budget away into every cause they support?”

  Somewhere I’d gotten the idea Californians were supposed to be mild-mannered. Apparently not.

  “Now see what you’ve done,” Ryan murmured to me. “I bet we’re the best educated East Coast team on California finances. ”

  “Well, maybe you could use your knowledge about the broke state to keep yourselves from going broke. ”

  He narrowed his eyes. “Don’t get smart, Hamilton. ”

  I grinned at him, delighted by his wry expression and small smile, until Abe’s arm jostled me, and then I looked away.

  Chapter Eleven

  After dinner everyone migrated to the couches, and Briana came to stand by my side, a hint of expensive perfume pearling off her skin. “So. I hear you’re in publishing. ”

  A smile tugged at my lips. In publishing sounded so dashing, and for a moment I wanted to lie and say oh, yes. Definitely, and buff my nails against my shoulder. I reined in the impulse since I barely knew Briana. “I’m just an intern. ”

  “Right. Where’d you go to school?”

  “Uh, BU. ”

  “And you studied English?”

  “I did. Where’d you go to school?”

  She took a moment before responding, as though to remind me this was her interrogation, not the other way around. “UCLA. Do you know much about football?”

  “Absolutely nothing. How about you?”

  “I should write a book. You kind of have an attitude, don’t you?”

  “Just a small one. ”

  “So does Ryan. His is large. What’s your deal? The general consensus seems to be that you’re Ryan’s girl, but he’s not saying anything, not even to Malcolm. ”

  I choked on air. Ryan’s girl? “I thought you were supposed to be a little more circumspect. Like, invite me out to lunch so you could grill me. ”

  She finally cracked a smile. “No, that’s the second step. And it includes a couple of the other Leopard girlfriends, too. ”

  “That sounds. . . vaguely cultish. ”

  “Oh, it is. ”

  I laughed. “I am not anyone’s girl. ” Because I was a woman! I had to get better at my roaring. “I just—sort of stumbled into this. ” I tilted my head. “Are there are a lot of other girlfriends? Most of the guys seem serially single. ”

  Briana smirked. “It’s this crowd. They’re the young, Manhattan living, commitment-phobe group. A lot of the team lives in Jersey or Westchester, married to college sweethearts with two-point-four kids. ” She shuddered.

  “Except Malcolm can’t have commitment problems. ” Because, you know, the ring.

  “They call me the beginning of the end. ”

  “But you’ve been around a while. Two years?”

  “Two and a half. But we’re not talking about me. We’re talking about you. Why are you here?”

  I should have Briana interrogate my brother’s girlfriend. “Abe wanted to have dinner. ”

  “Mmm. ” She looked over at the guys. When she turned back at me, her expression had steeled. “Ryan’s very skittish. ”

  “This is the warning off part, isn’t it?”

  Her lips smiled, but her eyes stayed focused. “Yeah. So listen. Ryan hasn’t dated anyone real since I’ve known him. He does long term, high-profile flings. It’s messed up. But he does not do dinner at his house. He certainly never does dishes with anyone. ”

  How had that got out? Wait, that was not the top of my list. “Ryan doesn’t even like me. ”

  She gave me a withering look. “Don’t be an idiot. ”

  Right. “Being attracted to someone isn’t the same as liking them. ”

  She outright laughed. “You’re not his type. If he’s attracted to you, it’s not for your looks. ”

  That just brought my self-esteem to a whole new level, coming from a stunning model-actress.

  She tilted her head. “In fact, I bet it’s because you’re different. You seem very—artsy. Academic. ”

  “And that appeals to football players?” I asked dryly.

  She shook her head. “Ryan’s a great guy. ” Somehow her words came out doubtfully. “And it’s not that he isn’t a wonderful player, he’s a dual-threat for God’s sake, it’s just. . . ” She trailed off, frowning slightly. I frowned back at her. I didn’t know what a dual-threat meant. I knew a triple-threat: a person who could act, sing, and dance, but I was pretty sure Briana wasn’t referring to Ryan’s Broadway talents.

  “It’s not his entire world. ” She picked her words carefully. “Some of the guys, you can’t imagine them doing anything else, but Ryan. . . Sometimes I think he could have done anything. Maybe that’s why he likes you, because you’re something different. ”

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