Rush me, p.35
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       Rush Me, p.35

         Part #1 of New York Leopards series by Allison Parr
 
Page 35

  “Hey. ”

  I shot upright, banging my head on a closet shelf, before huddling back into my blanket. His voice was deep and low, and hit me the same way. “Hey!” I responded, appallingly chipper. “Are we on for dinner on Friday?”

  The silence stretched on too long. I closed my eyes. “Sorry,” Ryan said. “There’s a charity auction a bunch of us are going to. ”

  “Oh. ” I clutched my cell. I was an idiot. He didn’t want to see me. He hadn’t missed me at all. I shouldn’t have kissed him. “Okay. That’s fine. I just wanted to check. ”

  Another silence, as I tried to figure out how to end this. “You could come if you wanted. ”

  I froze. Like a. . . date? No. That was silly. We weren’t even real friends. He wouldn’t ask me as a date.

  So was he asking me as a friend?

  Wait, no, I’d just established we weren’t real friends.

  So was this a pity invitation?

  “Rachael?”

  “Uh, yeah. What’s this thing?”

  “. . . A charity auction. ”

  Oh, God, he’d just said that. This conversation was going nowhere. Why had I thought calling Ryan was a good idea? “All right. Should I—meet you before? Or there? Or what?”

  “Whatever you want. ”

  I winced at his unencouraging response. “Okay. Sure. I’ll think about it. ” What was the matter with me? “Just text me the address. ” Did he have to sound so enthusiastic about seeing me again?

  When we hung up, I called Abe. “Happy New Year. ” I crawled out of my closet. “So. Are you going to this charity thing on Friday?”

  * * *

  That Thursday, Eva took me over to her friend Christine’s, and we plundered her wardrobe for a gown. Christine had turned her tiny second bedroom into a closet, and filled it with enough clothes to attend a year’s worth of theatre premieres.

  “You’re lucky you have no boobs. ” Eva held a white gown up in front of the mirror. “You can actually wear these. ”

  I didn’t have no boobs. They just weren’t D cups. “Hmph. ” I pulled a blue dress. Pale, light, and wispy, it made me picture perfect fairy-princesses.

  “I think you should wear a red one. ”

  “Are you kidding? Wouldn’t that be a little—much?”

  Eva clicked her tongue. “Did you look at that website? Tickets start at five-hundred dollars. Tables start at five-thousand. I am pretty sure this is the perfect occasion to wear a fancy dress. ” She sighed, putting the white one back. “I’m so jealous. ”

  “Maybe I can get you into another event,” I said impulsively. “If, you know, I don’t get kicked out for being a poser at this one. ”

  “If a linebacker is taking you as his date, you are not a poser. Here. ” She swung a red dress at me. “Try this on. ”

  “Not as his date. ” I shimmied into the gown. “I just didn’t feel comfortable showing up by myself. ”

  It took another hour to settle on a dress, a dark emerald, off-the-shoulder sheath that pooled on the floor when I was barefoot. Christine added heels and dangling earrings she’d worn in a production of Thoroughly Modern Millie to my haul.

  The next day, Eva brought her friend Mattie to our apartment. I sat in our wobbly fold out chair while Mattie wound her hands through my hair, tugging and twisting and pinning. The apartment smelled like cooked hair and foaming salon gel. “This is ridiculous. Who cares this much about appearances? Why am I spending so much time on this? For God’s sake, I shaved my legs. I hate shaving my legs. Who am I shaving them for? For society? Why am I wearing the torturous, deforming device known as heels?”

  “Shut up. You can be a feminist and still like looking pretty. ”

  I slid further down in my seat, crossing my arms and feeling grumpy. Then I perked up. “You think I look pretty?”

  Eva took three steps left into the kitchenette and poured a drink. “You are so bipolar. ”

  She was right. I had the sudden urge to argue about society’s definition of pretty.

  Mattie did my makeup as well, smudging my skin with concealers and powders, working on my eyes and lips with tiny brushes and pencils. I’d been alarmed at the idea of letting a theatre girl fix me up. “Light,” I kept saying. “Like there’s no makeup at all. ”

  Even patient Mattie finally got tired of me. “Rachael, I do wedding cosmetics, too. Don’t worry. You’ll look just fine. ”

  When Mattie let me up, I wobbled over to the warped mirror. And Mattie was right. They were both right. They’d played fairy godmother with immaculate taste, artfully tucking and piling my curls on top of my head, coaxing strands to frame my face. Bronze highlights shone, and my murky irises looked more green than brown. The cosmetics smoothed and toned my skin, wiped away a few fading pimples, and made my lips plump and glossy. “My God, Mattie. You’re a miracle worker. ”

  She smiled and pulled a beer from the fridge. “All it takes is a little time and effort. I keep telling people. It’s not like actresses and heiresses are naturally beautiful, and regular people aren’t. We’re all the same. ”

  Eva shook her head. “You are hot, Rachael. ”

  I snuck another look in the mirror, and started to grin. “Thanks. ”

  Our buzzer went off, and the three of us started. “I’m here!” Abe called. “It’s Abe!”

  Eva scooted in front of the mirror and fluffed her short hair. “Make him come up. ”

  “To our tiny place?” I looked with dismay at the carnage of bobby pins and takeout containers. “Really?”

  She narrowed her eyes. “Yes. ”

  I pressed the buzzer. “Come on up. ”

  When he entered, he stopped in his tracks. “Wow. ” He took me in in an extremely gratifying manner. “You look amazing. ”

  I felt a little giddy. “Thank you, Abraham. You look quite dashing, yourself. ” He wore a proper suit and tie, his curly hair brushed into place. I stepped over and gave him a little hug of greeting. Unlike my high school and college friends, he wrapped his arms around me in a very delicate manner. I wasn’t sure if it was because he was more aware of his own strength, or because I currently looked particularly breakable. “This is my roommate, Eva, and our friend Mattie. ”

  He charmed them with jokes about Brooklyn apartments and the proper appreciation for their acting credentials. When we left, both girls were beaming.

  Abe held the passenger door open for me when we reached his car, and then chuckled as we pulled into traffic. “You know, Ryan is going to kill me when he sees us together. ”

  I thought about saying, “Now, why would he do that?” and then decided that qualified as coy. “Yeah. It’s a possibility. ”

  Abe laughed. “I’m going to run in the opposite direction. ”

  “And leave me all by myself?”

  He gave me a wide-eyed, overly innocent look. “No. I’ll be leaving you with Ryan. ”

  Chapter Sixteen

  The Museum of American Culture held its Children’s Society Gala every year, and its attendees cut a wide swath through the rich and elite of New York. Old Manhattan money rubbed shoulders with young Hollywood actors, Wall Street tycoons, and a smattering of local athletes. Artwork by the children of the five boroughs hung between Old Master paintings, and a silent auction raised additional money for the twenty thousand homeless children in the city.

 
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ALLISON PARR SERIES:

New York Leopards