Rush me, p.42
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       Rush Me, p.42

         Part #1 of New York Leopards series by Allison Parr
 
Page 42

  “I’m having a girls’ night in. ”

  “That sounds fun, too. Am I invited?”

  “Sorry, Abe. ”

  “Okay, well, are you at least coming to the game Sunday?”

  “I didn’t realize you had one. ”

  He was starting to sound annoyed. “Course we do. It’s against the Ann Arbor Bisons?” He sighed when I didn’t answer. “I get that you’re in a fight with Ryan or whatever, but that doesn’t mean you have to blow the rest of us off. ”

  Guilt spiked through me. What kind of friend was I, that I’d been insensitive enough to ignore him simply because I’d been absorbed by my own troubles? “Sorry. My roommate and I were going to do a picnic in the park tomorrow. Want to come?”

  “Central Park? Yeah! Don’t they have a zoo there, too? We should check it out. ”

  His eager tone cut. Abe had only moved to the city recently. He might not even know that many people outside the football circuit. “I’ll see you then. ”

  “Who was that?” Laurel asked when I stepped back in the office. “You made a face. ”

  “Oh—one of my friends. I’d been neglecting him, so we’re going to have a picnic Saturday. ”

  “That sounds fun. ” Laurel made a show of being casual. “I’ve been meaning to do that. After all, we probably only have another week of warmish weather before fall hits hard. And it’s so pretty out, with all the leaves. ”

  Was Laurel angling for an invitation? Wouldn’t she ruin her designer clothes sitting on the ground? “Uh—you can come, if you want. ”

  “Great!”

  That evening, Nanami and Jen arrived with a box of brownie mix, a bag of peanut butter cups, and a carton of vanilla ice cream. Just like in college. We swirled the peanut butter cups into the brownies and then intently studied Jen’s collection of disaster movies, on the off-chance they had changed since last time.

  After selecting a B-list film filled with aliens and bad one-liners that we could all quote from memory, Nanami made a face and dragged my computer into her lap. “Just thought you should see this. . . ”

  We all crowded around as she pulled up a gossip website that I’d heard of, but never actually visited. I froze when I saw one of the front articles. “Gallery of the Museum of American Culture’s Children’s Society Gala. ”

  I groaned. “No way. ”

  She clicked through until, just as I’d suspected, a picture of Ryan and me loaded. It wasn’t bad. Ryan and I were both sneaking a look at each other as the camera snapped, and we had matching little grins. We looked like we liked each other.

  The picture was part of a slideshow, not an article, so the caption included no more than our names. Still, it was a little unnerving to see that lovelorn look on my face as I glowed up at Ryan. Especially on a popular website.

  “Let’s watch the earth blow up, okay guys?” I said, and we all turned back to the movie.

  * * *

  The next day was unseasonably warm, and bright sunshine streaked down through the golden canopy as Eva and I strolled along Central Park’s mall. Yellow leaves, shaped like petals, fluttered down and dotted the wide boulevard, while above they meshed with some still-green patches against the soft, pale sky.

  “This is gorgeous. ” Eva swung her canvas bag absently as we walked by statues and vendors and artists. She fit into the scene perfectly, decked out like a 1920s fashion plate. Black lace from her dress peeked out beneath a maroon coat, while a black cloche perched atop her blonde hair. She was dying to chop it chin length and dye it black, but she was stuck with a long hairdo until P&P: The Musical finished its run. “I always mean to come here more often. ”

  “Me, too. ” We descended the grand staircase that led to the Bethesda Terrace, where a bronze angel presided over the cascading fountain and pool. Skirting the terrace, we headed along the lake, where the brilliant oranges and tomato reds muddled in the water.

  We meandered deeper through the forested Ramble where the shining buildings vanished from sight, coming so very close to the Marionette’s theater. I could almost hear Ryan’s laughter. We made our way up Vista Rock, one of the highest points of the park. We were meeting Abe at Belvedere’s Castle observation deck; Nanami and Jen, more familiar with the park, would join us on the Great Lawn just below.

  We beat him there, and leaned against the stone walls, watching first the tourists who admired the Victorian folly, and then turning our backs and looking out across Turtle Pond, to the Lawn beyond. Huge round trees rimmed the edge of the park, the balls of color reflected in the water. The pond’s marshy edges faded to straw-like yellow grasses. Beyond the trees, skyscrapers arched into the white-streaked sky.

  “Rachael!”

  At Abe’s voice, I turned, and watched him bounding up stone steps. I grinned and lifted my arm in a wave.

  Two more heads bounced into view.

  “Oh. ” Eva didn’t sound all that disappointed. “Friends. ”

  Dylan and Mike waved.

  I groaned. “I didn’t quite realize what a party this would be. ”

  Eva gave me a sidelong glance. “You and your football players is the weirdest thing in the world. ”

  “Don’t pretend you’re not enjoying it,” I muttered as they reached us, and she laughed.

  I performed introductions all around. Eva glowed under the attention, and she soon had the three guys in her thrall as she described antics from her theatre. When Dylan egged her to sing, she jumped at the chance, and started belting the opening number—“Universally Acknowledged/In Want of a Wife”—as we climbed down toward the Great Lawn. Abe laughed. “What is this?” he asked me. “Do you know this, too?”

  Eva grinned. “Oh, yes. Come on, Rach. ”

  I joined in. The entire musical was silly, but too much fun not to sing along with. I trailed off in bursts of laughter as Eva continued singing brightly as we found a spot to settle down. “We open in November. You guys should come. It’s going to be brilliant. ”

  We spread out our blankets and unloaded our food. Eva and I had planned on eating baguettes with Camembert cheese and jam and pretending we were French, but we’d also picked up some cold cuts after I invited the linebacker along. The guys also picked up two rotisserie chickens, a round cake of corn bread, and two six packs. Whatever worked. Soon enough, Nanami and Jen joined us and donated cookies and a carton of strawberries to the cause.

  For the first five minutes, I watched nervously. Mixing friend groups could be a risky endeavor. What if differences insulted people, and everyone ended up on edge? But Mike and Abe were simply too laid back, and even Dylan’s sarcasm fit in well with my friends’ sense of humor. Before I knew it, the food was gone and we were all lolling about on full bellies. When Dylan responded to a text I barely even noticed, but then, half an hour later, Malcolm and Briana approached, hands swinging between them.

  Bri struck up a conversation with Nanami about civil engineering, which Bri studied and Nanami worked with, while the rest of the group was sucked into a debate about the team’s chances tomorrow.

  “Rachael?”

  I twisted around at the hesitant voice. Laurel stood behind me, her high heels sinking only slightly into the grass. She wore her fitted coat open, and while it was warm enough to go without a scarf, she’d still draped a royal blue pashima around her neck. She smiled, her face even more perfectly balanced and poreless than usual, and held out an elegant pale lavender box, silvery curlicues and letters shining. Her eyes flicked to the guys behind me.

 
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ALLISON PARR SERIES:

New York Leopards