Rush me, p.57
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       Rush Me, p.57

         Part #1 of New York Leopards series by Allison Parr
 
Page 57

  We started eating around one and didn’t leave the table until four. Ryan’s absence was probably for the best since the interrogation was immediate and thorough. “Why isn’t he here?” Grandma Maisel asked.

  “He’s working. ” Funny, no one had ever pressed me this hard about my work. How nice to see my family’s priorities.

  “What he’s do?” My grandmother’s voice was nasal and distrustful. When she squinted, a hundred additional wrinkles billowed out from her temples. “Who works on a holiday?”

  “He plays football for the New York Leopards. ” This caused half my relatives to spit up their drink, and the other half to almost glaze over from boredom. My family. A cohesive whole.

  Dad gaped at me, as he so often did, like when I told him that I had finished the last of the milk or that, yes, I had borrowed his boots, but here they were back safe and sound, so no worries. Lots of things shocked Dad.

  This, however, shocked him more than most things.

  Mom, of course, just shook her head. I still wasn’t sure she believed football counted as a viable career option.

  Later, as we sat in the family room in varying catatonic states, Uncle Steve from the half of the family that did care switched on the television. We caught the last quarter of the Leopards playing the Broncos. “See?” I said to Mom, who I snuggled against. “There he is! See, it’s a real thing. ”

  Mom looked vaguely horrified as we watched two men fall heavily to the ground and flip heels over heads. “I can’t believe you’re dating a jock. ”

  I watched Ryan skirt a pair of linemen, knocking shoulders with a broad-shouldered man in blue and orange, ball cradled in his arm. He spun and ducked, lunging over the Leopards’ thirty-yard line and launching the ball in the air, releasing it just as a cornerback covered him. It tumbled across the sky as the players below scrambled toward the end zone. Malcolm broke free of the pack, his hand outstretched, leaping high to pluck the ball from the air before being buried in a pile of defensive tackles. “Did you see that?” I pressed Mom once I could breathe again. “Did you see that pass he made?”

  “What? What are you talking about?”

  “Hmph. ” I crossed my arms, waiting for the announcers to calm down, and the camera to go back to Ryan. “Well, I like him anyways. ”

  * * *

  He arrived at one the next afternoon, pulling into the driveway in his tiny little sportscar. I resisted running out and meeting him, because I liked to maintain the illusion that I was a mature adult. Still, I scrutinized him as he walked up the drive, watching him with my parents’ eyes instead of my own. He’d dressed casually, but still utterly presentably, and his clean cut jaw and short gold hair made him look heart-breakingly beautiful. My parents were going to be baffled.

  The doorbell rang, and I heard Mom scream “I’ll get it!” from the kitchen, excited as a child at Christmas.

  “Mom!”

  She grinned mischievously and pulled the door open, her whole face lighting up. “You must be Ryan. ”

  I quickly stepped up to join them as Ryan handed my mother a bright bouquet starring orange lilies, white roses, and filled out with green poms. “Nice to meet you, Ms. Maisel. Thanks for having me. ”

  Astonishment crossed Mom’s face as she took the armful. “Oh, we’re pleased to have you! It’s not often Rachael brings anyone home. ”

  “Thanks, Mom. ” I stepped forward to give Ryan a light kiss. He smiled at me as Mom bustled around, placing the flowers in a crystal cut vase.

  Dad came around the corner and beamed a little too effusively. “So! Ryan Carter! It’s good to meet you!”

  I tensed. If he started talking about Ryan’s game, I would die of embarrassment.

  “That was a great pass to Lindsey you made in the fourth last night—”

  “Dad,” I said in a low, warning voice.

  Dad looked wounded. “What? I’m just making conversation. ”

  Ryan, the traitor, grinned. “Rachael sometimes thinks my being a player is a little. . . awkward. ”

  “I never said that. ”

  He gave me a look. I gave him one right back.

  Mom came back. “Why don’t you come in, and we can get you settled. Are you hungry? Need anything to drink? We have seltzer, orange juice, beer. . . ”

  My parents had never offered me anything other than ceremonial alcohol in my life.

  Also, Ryan better not say yes.

  “Just seltzer would be perfect, Ms. Maisel. ”

  I let out a tiny sigh of relief. Ryan took my hand and gave it a light squeeze, as if to say, “I’m not an idiot. ”

  And also, maybe, “You’re not alone. ”

  “So,” Mom said, after we had all settled on the living room couches, the flowers beaming up at us. “Rachael has been appalling stingy with details. How did you two meet?”

  Ryan smiled, that golden boy smile of his, the one that made him look like every parent’s dream come true. Mom couldn’t seem to help herself. She gave me another baffled, bemused look, like where did he come from? as Ryan spun out a PG rendition of our meet-cute.

  I’d had no idea if my parents would take to Ryan; if they’d treat him with too much awe on my father’s part or disdain on my mother’s. I wasn’t sure if Ryan could fit into my family dynamic, or if the entire experience would be mind-bogglingly uncomfortable.

  But he fit. My parents treated him the same way they treated all of my friends: like we were still children, but my parents were trying to remember that we thought we were adults. They grilled him thoroughly about his family and his upbringing and his life. Football became an afterthought, even to my father. And my mother, whose dispassionate regard for sports may have been genetic, couldn’t have cared less.

  Ryan seemed to like that.

  “Go on, then,” I told Mom after dinner, once we were alone in the kitchen. Dad had escaped to his study, while Ryan took a call after I assured him it was fine. After all, I wanted to talk to my mother alone. “What did you think?”

  Mom sounded half-amazed. “He’s very nice. ”

  “What’s that mean? Do you like him?” I was a little surprised by how much I wanted her approval.

  “Yes, I do. ” She paused in loading the dishwasher and wiped her purple-gloved hand across her forehead, leaving a streak of soap bubbles. “I’m just not sure what the two of you have in common. ”

  I leaned against the counter. “We have a lot in common. ”

  She raised her hands placatingly, which raised my hackles even more. “Maybe you do. I’m just not sure what it is. He seems like a very nice boy, it’s just that. . . I worry about you, Rachael. ”

  “You don’t have anything to worry about. ”

  “I’m sure I don’t. ”

  The unsaid “but” dangled in the air, and I narrowed my eyes as she refused to go on without prompting. “Fine. Why do you worry about me?”

  Now she frowned. “I just worry that you make very strong attachments. While Ryan seems very nice. . . I don’t know, Rach, I just don’t want you to get hurt. ”

  I crossed my arms. “You just met him. ”

  “I shouldn’t have said anything. . . ”

  No, I wanted to snap, you shouldn’t have. But I bit that back, since I did value my mother’s opinions. Besides, how could I blame her? I had judged Ryan just as shallowly when I first met him. And she had admitted she liked him; she just worried a jock and a nerd had nothing to bond over. Once she saw how well we fit together, everything would be fine.

 
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ALLISON PARR SERIES:

New York Leopards