Rush me, p.27
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       Rush Me, p.27

         Part #1 of New York Leopards series by Allison Parr
Page 27

  I smiled, and continued. “I think she dumped her soda on me, and everyone laughed, and I got up and yelled at her about being a spoiled bitch—except I didn’t say bitch because I was way too Puritanical—and then I said, ‘The only reason people pretend to be friends with you is because they’re scared not to. ’ And then she dropped her sloppy joe on me. ”

  All right. So the entire episode was burned into my memory.

  “She sounds like a treat. Though I can commiserate with the name calling. ”

  “Oh, please. Sure, if it had stopped with the sloppy joe. But then she set out to make my life miserable, and she made fun of Kate and Madison and Carly, too. It wouldn’t matter so much if she wasn’t dating my brother right now, but I worry that she hasn’t really changed. Maybe if she’d only bullied me—who doesn’t have a high school bully?—but the lengths she went to, the things she did to my friends. . . ” I shook my head. “I can’t imagine she’s good for David. ”

  Ryan watched me with the oddest expression. “That’s not how I would have imagined your high school experience. ”

  “Really? Huh. How was yours? Star of the football team? Most popular boy in school?”

  He turned away. “Not exactly. ”

  I was surprised. “Really? Why not?”

  “I don’t want to talk about it. ”

  “Oh, come on. I just spilled my tragic teen past. What’s yours?”

  “It’s boring. ”

  “Then it shouldn’t take long to tell. ”

  “All right. ” He stared down at my black-stockinged calves, lying in his lap, and then at my feet, and then away, out the window at the thousand lights of Manhattan. His silhouette, like a Renaissance statue, made my breath catch. “I learned to play the game with my brothers and uncles, not in school. Because I wasn’t in school often enough to be on the team, ’cause I had to stay home half the time and take care of my mother. We couldn’t afford a personal caretaker. But she died my junior year, so I played football senior and got scouted. I had few friends and awful grades. ” He looked back at me, hard. “Happy?”

  No. I was sad. “I’m sorry about your mother. ”

  His hand landed softly on my leg, and my whole body tingled. “We knew she was dying. Breast cancer. I have this memory in my head of her tall and proud, and then sometimes I get flashes of her at the end, small and fragile and tired. She made bad puns up until the end. ” He tugged on his earlobe and widened his eyes like he was shaking off a bad case of jitters. “Anyway. That was a long time ago. ”

  Nine years, if he’d been a junior in high school. I wondered if it still felt like yesterday. “Did she like football?”

  He snorted laugher. “She hated it. All sports. She taught, and wanted just one of her sons to follow in her steps. She always said it would be me. ” He stopped, and I watched his face close down.

  “Did you ever think about it? Teaching?”

  He shrugged. “I volunteer at two youth programs. I do basic math and English tutoring. And sometimes we toss a ball around. And, um, I’m thinking about starting another foundation. ”

  “You’ve already started a foundation?”

  Ryan sounded more awkward than I had ever heard him. “Well, uh. Um. Yeah. For breast cancer. ”

  I blinked. “You have a charity for breast cancer?”

  “Yeah, I mean, what else was I going to do with the money, you know? My mom. . . ” He shrugged.

  “What’s it called?”

  “The Jean Carter Foundation. ” He grimaced. “Not very original, I know. ”

  The Jean Carter Foundation pulled in money from big names and turned it all to research. They’d made enough steps in the right direction that I’d actually caught a couple of features on them in the media. My first reaction was not “how unoriginal, naming a foundation after your mom. ” It was holy shit. Ryan founded the Jean Carter Foundation? That was his mother? That tiny, sweet-faced lady on all the posters with the spiky short hair? No wonder I’d recognized the framed picture in his room. “Wow. That’s impressive. Congratulations. Are you—involved a lot? I mean, what do you do?”

  “Not the science. ” He started to sound a little more like his old self. “I fundraise. Sign people up to sign away their money. And I show up to events. Sometimes they make me give speeches. ” He bowed his head again, and mumbled the next part. “I’m not very good at giving speeches. ”

  He looked so forlorn all I wanted to do was cheer him up. Well, I wanted to hear more about this charity, too, and how he had gone about founding it—how did one just found a charity? Did he hire someone to take care of it? Did he search out the head scientists?—but mostly, I wanted him to stop looking so sad. “Why, Ryan,” I quipped. “You may try to hide it, but I think you’re actually a good guy. ”

  To my relief, he laughed and directed a mock glare my way. “I don’t try to hide it. You should see the publicity work my agent does! You’re just determined to think the worst of me. ”

  “Hey. I am not the one being fawned over in car commercials by scantily clad girls. ”

  He leered at me. “I would watch that car commercial. ”

  Okay, I was flattered despite myself. “Ha. Please. I am not a car person. I can only recommend transportation by feet. ” I tilted my head. “Or perhaps the magical steeds of Central Park. ”

  Ryan’s brows winged up. “What, the police horses? No! I know! It’s those guys who drive the tourist carriages around! That’s how you’d like to get around the city. ”

  “Actually, not a bad idea. I could do that. But I was actually thinking of painted wooden horses. ” At his blank look, I nudged him slightly with my foot. “The carousel?”

  “There’s a carousel in Central Park?”

  I gaped at him. What kind of human being—what kind of New Yorker—didn’t know about the carousel? “What do you mean?” I asked. “Of course there is!”

  He shrugged. “I’ve never been on a carousel. ”

  “Ever?” I gasped. “But—but you live right over Central Park! You can practically see it! And it’s the carousel!”

  “I’ve ridden horses. ” As though that had anything to do with it. “What’s the point of going up and down on a piece of wood when you have the real thing?”

  My lips quirked. “That’s what she said,” I muttered, not quite able to help myself.

  He snorted. “How come I get yelled at when I say stuff like that, when you make the exact same jokes?”

  I spread my arms out airily. “Because I am filled with grace and poise. ”

  “You’re about to fall asleep on my sofa. ”

  “I am not!” I argued, and then proved my point by yawning. “Fine. I might be a little tired. ”

  “Yeah. Well, it’s almost two. ”

  “What!” I sat upright, filled with disbelief. “No. You’re lying. ”

  He showed me his watch. The craftsmanship and shininess were much more noticeable than the actual numerals

  “Ugh. That’s like taxi-taking time. ” Last time I’d left Ryan’s at a decent enough hour, especially for a Friday night. Twenty-somethings always packed the subway, so I never felt alone or unsafe. Still, I didn’t particularly want to push my luck.

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New York Leopards