Rush me, p.34
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       Rush Me, p.34

         Part #1 of New York Leopards series by Allison Parr
Page 34

  “No, we’re definitely not dating. Just—flirting. ” I felt unnaturally buoyant and cheerful.

  “Oh my God. ” Madison got over her own speechlessness. “My brothers adore him. They have posters of him all over their rooms. Even Daddy thinks he’s great. ”

  “Okay. ” Kate looked around. “I am totally shocked that you’re dating a football player, but I have to say—who’s Ryan Carter?”

  I laughed and threw my arms around her. “I love you so much. That was exactly my reaction. ”

  Chapter Fifteen

  “So what do you think about Sophie?” I asked Mom as we emptied the dishwasher the next afternoon. We’d just returned from a lunch out with the doting couple. We’d spent the entire time watching them nuzzle each other’s necks and exchange precious gems such as: “You’re so amazing,” courtesy of my brother, to which Sophie would return, “I know,” with a nauseating giggle.

  Mom glanced at me sharply. “You still have a grudge against her from high school. ”

  “What? No. Why would you say that? I was totally polite. ”

  Mom snorted, putting the silverware in the wrong slots, like always. I moved around her to sort them out. “I could tell. ”

  “Oh, come on, Mom. ” I turned all the forks the right direction. “They were so gooey I wanted to throw up. ”

  She laughed. “Yes. That’s true. But. They seem to make each other very happy. ”

  “How can such an awful human being make David happy?”

  Mom frowned at me. “I know she was mean in high school, but she seems like a nice girl now. ”

  “Yeah, I bet hyenas seem nice too, until they eat their young. ”

  She shook her head, but I could swear she wanted to laugh. “Don’t you think you’re a tad overreacting? Maybe you’re jealous. ”

  “Please. ” I stacked several plates and shoved them in the cupboard. “Of what?”

  “That your brother’s not paying as much attention to you as he usually does. That he’s in a nice relationship. ” She shot me a sidelong glance and leaned against the counter, completely giving up on helping me with the dishes. “I still don’t really understand why this boy cancelled on coming over for Rosh Hashanah. ”

  “Okay, first of all, he was not ‘this boy’, he was just a friend, and I told you, he ended up closer to home. And I am not jealous of any of that. God, Mom. ”

  She made a disbelieving noise deep in her throat. “I just want you to be happy. I think of you, alone in the city. . . ”

  “There are millions of people, and I have lots of friends. I’m not alone. Ugh, I can’t have this conversation right now, okay?” I slammed the dishwasher closed.

  That was the other problem with coming home. I lost a decade of personal growth and maturity.

  That night, my quartet met up with the remainder of our friends still in Ashbury. While many had migrated out to Boston or New York, rent hurt, and childhood rooms often morphed into post-graduate cells. Within an hour, a dozen of us gathered in the furnished basement of Jeremy Brown. More than I’d expected, but I wasn’t the only one in town for the weekend. My teenage crush Thomas Brewer had dropped by, and soon enough he appeared at my side.

  “Hey!” He greeted me with a huge, consuming hug, rather impressive considering his slim arms. Thomas was slim all over, a tall, slender guy with artistic scruff and rectangle glasses. “I didn’t know you would be here. ”

  “Just for the weekend. ” We flopped down on one of the couches. While my heart-rending puppy love had faded, he was still attractive, kind, funny, and achingly familiar. “What are you doing here?”

  “I’ve got tomorrow off from work, so I thought I’d come down for the long weekend. ”

  I propped my chin up on my hand and smiled. “How’s the job?”

  “Oh, it’s great. We’re working on this new storyline and my boss has pretty much given me free rein. Except he keeps vetoing it when I put in killer penguins. I don’t know why. I thought everyone loved killer penguins?”

  I laughed. Thomas worked as the creative architect at a gaming company, and he kept me entertained with stories of plots and tongue-in-cheek descriptions of his coworkers. I listened happily, sitting there in that familiar basement with people I had known my entire life, drinking in the noises and feeling of my childhood.

  An hour later, we were still chatting, leaning into each other, when Kate stopped by. “We should head out. I have to wake up early for work. ”

  “Cool. ” He leaned back and included Kate in his gaze. “I’ll see you guys at the reunion?”

  “Of course. ” Kate threw an almost-surreptitious glance at me before focusing on Thomas. “So, um, are you bringing anyone?”

  I managed to keep my wince small.

  “No, actually. ” A slight grin crossed his face.

  “Weren’t you dating some girl from Boston?” Kate asked.

  His grin widened. “It didn’t work out. Are you guys bringing anyone?”

  “No,” Kate said, and I echoed her.

  “What was that about?” I asked as we left the party, heading for her scraped and dented junker.

  “Were you and Thomas flirting?”

  “What? No!” We slid into the car. “Why, do you think so? No, you know Thomas, he’s just super friendly. ”

  “Yeah, well, he was ‘super-friendly’ with you for an hour. ” We pulled out of the driveway. “He barely talked to anyone else once you got there. ”

  I shook my head. The idea that Thomas Brewer could finally pay attention to me was just too ridiculous. Flattering, but silly all the same.

  That night, I revived an old daydream about Thomas visiting me. It used to be set in college, and he would come visit and find me surrounded by a flock of eager suitors. Filled with jealously, he’d finally realize how much he liked me.

  Only in this daydream, before I drifted off to bed, Ryan kept showing up. And this time it wasn’t Thomas who became jealous and realized his true feelings.

  Damn, I was in trouble.

  * * *

  Back in Brooklyn, I kept waiting for Ryan to call. It was irritating. Really irritating. Also, why was I waiting for him to call? Why wasn’t I calling him? I stared down at my cell phone, Ryan’s number highlighted, sweating from the pressure of hitting or not hitting the call button.

  Not hitting kept winning out.

  Eva watched with bemused bewilderment. “You like him. Just call. ”

  “But I kissed him! He should call me!”

  “You’re being totally irrational. ”

  “Argh!” I cried in agreement.

  By Wednesday, I couldn’t take the uncertainty any longer. We were sort of friends, weren’t we? I could call him if I wanted. In Ashbury, I’d kept wanting to tell him silly stuff, stories, or dumb little things my brother said. I’d wanted to hear him laugh.

  So, while Eva was out at rehearsal, I barricaded myself in my closet and pulled my blanket in after me. Closed, confined spaces boosted my courage. I pressed my cell to my ear and listened to the endless ringing. He wasn’t going to pick up. Of course not. The butterflies died, their corpses solidifying into cold and heavy relief.

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New York Leopards