Rush me, p.30
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       Rush Me, p.30

         Part #1 of New York Leopards series by Allison Parr
Page 30

  “Hello, sweetheart!” She put down the knife and gave me a quick, hard hug. “Happy New Year! How was your trip?”

  “It was fine. What’re you making? Sweet carrots?”

  “Just for you. ” She moved us apart a foot, keeping her hands on my arms. “Did you gain a few pounds?”

  “Mom. ”

  “It’s all that processed take-out food. Is that the coat Daddy and I bought you? It looks good. But what is that shirt? Is that a hole in the hem?”

  “It’s comfortable,” I said defensively as she scrutinized the near-invisible rip. I actually thought the red V-neck looked good, though I should have known better than to expect my mother not to notice the hole.

  Mom, of course, looked perfect. She’d managed to bake cakes and pies throughout my childhood without gaining an extra pound, juggling housekeeping and child rearing along with a career in law. When she was twenty-three, she lived in Chicago working as a paralegal. I doubt she once had to weigh the pros and cons of a new pair of boots versus eating Ramen for three weeks.

  “Hey, Rach. ” My brother came up from behind Mom and wrapped me in a bear hug.

  “David!” I squeezed him back. Despite being taller and three years older than me, our shared coloring and features meant we’d been mistaken for twins as children. I’d missed him, when I wasn’t busy being irritated by him.

  He stepped back, gave me a stern look, and gestured someone else forward. “Sophie, you remember my sister, right?”

  I’d last seen Sophie Salisbury at graduation five years ago, when she stepped on my robe and made me trip as we all walked into the stadium to take our seats. I would have been perfectly happy to let another five years go by without seeing her.

  Now, she stood before me in a short blue dress, her heavily highlighted hair flowing free and straight over her shoulders. She was just a little too pretty, too thin, too perfect, enough that she resembled Barbie more than a real person. I wondered if her golden glow was of the sun-cancer or tanning-booth-cancer variety.

  David gave me another look that said behave.

  Sophie smiled. “Of course I do. ” She stepped forward and wrapped her arms around me in a delicate, limp hug. “I’m so glad you could come!”

  She’d stunned me into immobility. What was that supposed to mean? This was my house. She was the stranger.

  “Why don’t you girls set the table?” Mom suggested. “Dinner’s almost ready, and people start arriving at six-thirty. David, go get the drinks from the garage. ”

  “Of course,” Sophie chirped, already taking the plates out. I tried not to scowl as I removed the silverware. I followed her into the dining room, watching with no little disdain as she lay each plate down with a flourish.

  Okay, I had to get a grip. Maybe she had changed. We had both grown up, right? Sophie might be an amazing person.

  “Are you going to the reunion?”

  And the first thing we talked about was high school. “Yes. ”

  “It will be so much fun. I loved high school. ”

  I refused to relive Sophie Salisbury’s glory days, or be drawn into a debate about something we’d finished five years ago.

  “So,” she said brightly as we finished setting the table. “I thought you were bringing your boyfriend?”

  “A friend. ” I determinedly straightened the last set of silverware. “But he went back to California instead. His family’s there. ”

  “Right. But. . . David said you were at your boyfriend’s the other night?”

  Grapevine win; planning ahead fail. You can’t circumvent Karma. “Uh, yeah. I was. Um—he was busy. ”

  “What’s this you two are talking about?” Mom joined us, setting candles down on the table.

  Sophie cut a glance my way. “Rachael’s boyfriend. ”


  “What boyfriend?” Mom, homed in on me, determined as any missile. “That boy you were going to bring? Are you dating him?”

  “No,” I said firmly. But I couldn’t quite bring myself to rescind the boyfriend with Sophie’s eagle eye on me. “Someone else. It’s—totally casual. Not even worth bringing up. ”

  Mom wasn’t dissuaded. “I want to hear all about him!”

  “Yes, do tell,” Sophie cooed as Dad and David came back upstairs with a crate of drinks. “Maybe he’ll be able to come for the reunion!”

  I glared at her, wondering what my cursed brother could possibly see in her. “There’s nothing going on! Just drop it, okay?”

  Mom looked hurt. “We just want you to be happy. ”

  “I am happy. ” So happy I stalked across the room to refill my water glass.

  Mom leaned in to speak confidentially to Sophie. “Rachael hasn’t had a boyfriend since junior year of college. And while Stephen was a nice boy, he, well. . . ” She shook her head.

  David grinned. Sophie looked intrigued, and my stomach tightened. How had she missed this? My entire circle of friends had thought it was the funniest thing in the world. “He left college. To join seminary. ”

  Sophie looked confused.

  “He became a priest,” I clarified, glaring at Mom. Did we have to bring that up?

  “No way,” Sophie gasped, shock and glee crossing her face. She shook back her hair and leaned forward. “Are you serious?”

  “Yes. ” I wished I’d poured wine instead of water. “I am. ” I hadn’t thought I’d been that bad at sex that Stephen needed to give up girls forever.

  Sophie’s mouth fell open. “That’s freaking hilarious. So, no boyfriend, but you live in New York, right? What do you do?” She tilted her head, her hair falling now in a shiny, shimmery waterfall. She smiled at my parents. “Do you follow in your parents’ footsteps? Lawyer? A professor?”

  As though she hadn’t creeped on my Facebook, too.

  “I work for a publishing house in Manhattan. ”

  Mom sighed. “They don’t pay her anything. ” She gave me a sad, disappointed look, and shook her head. “I just don’t understand why, with your talent, and your work ethics, you can’t get a more lucrative position. ”

  “Because I like publishing. ” Did we have to have this conversation in front of Sophie Salisbury?

  “But it doesn’t seem to be going anywhere, does it? Rachael, you know we’re glad you’re giving your passions a try, but you can’t afford to do that forever. We told you we’d pay for law school. ”

  I clenched my hands in my lap. I didn’t want to go to law school. I certainly didn’t want my parents to pay my way through. “I know. But I like my job. ” I would not let my family get to me. Instead, I turned a bright, hard smile on Sophie. “And what do you do?”

  She smiled, displaying perfect teeth straight out of a whitening strip commercial. “I’m a yoga instructor. And I’m getting my business master’s. I want to open up my own studio. ”

  My parents smiled as though this were a perfectly charming thing to do. If I had wanted to be a yoga teacher, they would have forged an application to the Ivies. Then again, being a small business owner probably appealed to their entrepreneurial spirits.

  Ugh. Successful people hurt my soul.

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New York Leopards