Rush me, p.31
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       Rush Me, p.31

         Part #1 of New York Leopards series by Allison Parr
Page 31

  “And how’s work?” I asked David.

  He puffed up. “We’re doing really well. Really great. I’m going out to San Leandro next week to show the CEO of Mertins Industry and his fiancée around. And I’m in talks with a journalist at the New York Times, who’s interested in coming out for a bit and seeing the island. For a piece on eco-tourism. ”

  “When are they flying us out there?” Dad joked.

  San Leandro was a tiny little flyspeck off the Turkish Coast. It was everything clichés are made of—emerald green hills with golden sands, set against sapphire waters. The resort hosted diving and boating and hiking and dancing, and all completely eco-friendly. Part of my brother’s job, as press secretary, was to try to lure famous people to the island. Then San Leandro received tons of money, and the celebrity looked green for their press release—which, in turn, informed the plebs about San Leandro and made them interested in the parent company’s other resorts.

  David smiled. “Someday. ”

  I didn’t really expect David would be able to pull strings and get us a free trip to the Med, but I did hope he’d wrangle a family discount. I was pulling for sometime in March—around the time you really want the weather to warm up and the snow to stop falling, even though you know there’s no chance.

  “David and I were talking about going for New Year’s. ” Sophie leaned into his side. He wrapped his arm around her and smiled. “Wouldn’t that be sweet?”

  My parents made appreciative noises. Green-eyed disappointment gnawed away in my belly.

  “We have a bunch of great folk who’re going to be there, and there’s going to be a gala. Corporate wants me out there, but it’s during my holiday time, so I told them I had plans—but that they could be re-arranged, with the right incentive. ” David raised his wine glass to his lips, looking smug and pleased.

  “That’s my boy. ” Dad nodded. “Carve your own path. People’ll respect you more if you don’t cave so easily. ”

  Kill me now.

  I didn’t relax until the Cohens arrived, and then the Sagals, and one or two more of my parents’ friends. David and I, Sophie following, took our place at the “kids’ table. ” Twenty-four-year-old Aaron Cohen, twenty-one-year-old Ella Cohen, and the four Sagal siblings joined us, as they had for the past dozen years.

  Surrounded by familiar faces, I finally felt at ease. The familiar, ceremonial scent of hot melting candle wax and burning wick filled my nose, and the taste of cloyingly sweet Manischewitz wine and honey-drenched challah coated my tongue, just as it had every year since I could remember. Ruby red pomegranate seeds burst in my mouth, sharp and bright, while soft songs and laughter hung in the air.

  I hadn’t seen the Cohens or Sagals in months, not since Passover, so there were a million events to catch up on. We couldn’t stop laughing throughout the meal, jumping over each other to share stories and remembrances. Molly Sagal, the youngest at sixteen and general pet, shared the woes of high school, while Aaron Cohen taught us how to fold napkins into ducks and pigs.

  “So tell us about New York!” Ella Cohen grinned at me, her narrow face spry. I had always really liked Ella. She’d eschewed the regular liberal arts education in lieu of joining a start-up specializing in cellular scavenger hunts, and had been making a real salary for close to three years. “Maples&Co, right? That’s pretty awesome. ”

  “Rachael’s always been so into reading. ” Sophie had been quiet for most of the meal, smiling brightly whenever anyone directed a look her way, but mostly just sidling up to my brother and murmuring in his ear. Now, her words fell out quickly, her tone sharp. “She used to bring these huge, fat books all around school. Like, I remember in middle school, she’d sometimes even be reading at lunch!”

  My cheeks started to burn. Yes, I’d been a major dork. But the way she put it, the way she chortled, made it more embarrassing than usual. And sure, I probably should have been developing social skills instead of covering my face with a book, but I hadn’t figured that out yet.

  “Once, our freshman year of high school, Rachael was walking down the hall and reading at the same time, and she tripped and fell into the garbage can! It was hilarious. ”

  That was too much for the Cohens and Sagals, who’d shifted uncomfortably during the first anecdote. Now, they chuckled slightly, as did my traitorous brother. “Seriously, Rach? I never knew you fell into a trash can!”

  Sophie leaned forward. “There was a banana peel clinging to her when she got up. ”

  I recalled the garbage can incident vividly, though I hadn’t thought of it in years. I’d stumbled to my feet, dazed, my head hurting, and there stood Sophie Salisbury and her cronies, Casey and Miranda, and that stupid jock Chris Howell, and they all laughed, and laughed, and laughed.

  I stared at my plate, fingers closed tightly around my knife and fork. For God’s sake, why was Sophie bringing up that damnable story? Yes, it was funny in retrospect, but in high school I had found any mention of it absolutely mortifying, and Sophie knew that. Why would she possibly bring it up? What kind of person dug up humiliating memories nine years after the fact? Not the kind I wanted my brother involved with.

  After I’d soothed away my dismay and shock, and Ella had changed the topic, I raised my chin to find Sophie’s eyes on mine. She smiled, so sweetly my teeth hurt.

  Happy New Year.

  Chapter Fourteen

  “Maybe,” Kate, my best friend of thirteen years, said the next evening, “Sophie’s plotting revenge against you and it’s all going to blow up at the reunion. ”

  “Okay, Kate. ” We parked in Madison’s driveway and climbed out of the car. I took the plate of cookies she’d baked and she took the wine and we headed across the lawn. Madison lived in her parents’ guesthouse, which allowed us to feel a little more like we were twenty-three, and not thirteen. “I bet that’s it, except I’m the one who should want revenge for how she tortured me. No, I think it has to be David’s money. ”

  “Which, let’s be honest, is a pretty hefty incentive. I mean, I like getting summers off, but I’m probably going to have to spend them waiting tables. ”

  “Or maybe they really like each other. ” My nose crinkled in confusion. “They coo constantly. But I just don’t understand how that could happen. Why couldn’t he date, like, you?”

  “Because that would be like dating my own brother. ” Kate pushed the door open. “Ew. Why would you even suggest that?”

  Inside, Madison and Carly, the other half of our quartet, jumped up and enveloped us in hugs. To give credit where credit was due, Sophie had done her part in bringing the four of us together. She’d always picked on me, and Kate by association. Carlotta Ruiz, new our freshman year, had been an easy target. Sophie and her cohort had broken into giggles each time Carly spoke in faintly accented English, and cried out, “No habla español!” Madison, on the other hand, should have been safe, but Sophie despised anyone wealthier and prettier than she, especially when they refused to join her gaggle.

  By the end of that awful year, we’d been forged into an indestructible circle, and by sophomore year we’d found our own group of friends in the artsy-honors circuit. Now, I couldn’t imagine life without these three. Their rooms felt as familiar as my own, and their woes and dreams tugged at my heart. I knew them as well as I knew my own brother.

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New York Leopards