Rush me, p.59
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       Rush Me, p.59

         Part #1 of New York Leopards series by Allison Parr
 
Page 59

  I sighed happily, hooking my arm through Ryan’s. I hadn’t wanted to come, but now that I was here, everything felt nostalgic in the very best of ways. And it felt beautiful, too, in a way it hadn’t when I actually lived here. Now, the gentle jazz humming through the gardens sounded like an echo of a charmed past. My gauzy dress wisped slightly against my legs.

  “Very country-club,” Ryan whispered, and I laughed.

  “Every town needs at least one place where you can pretend you need to dress up, and have an excuse to look nice. ” I looked around at my classmates, who all trickled through the landscaped garden and into the hall. “The actual country club is way more relaxed. Everyone just goes there to swim or play tennis or whatever. ”

  Ryan skittered a glance at me and didn’t say anything.

  We stepped in through the open doors. Strung up across the entrance, a cheesy sign welcomed my class year in black and orange colors. Our school colors had always put me more in mind of Halloween than class spirit.

  Three women sat behind a desk filled with name stickers. “Hi. I’m Rachael Hamilton. ”

  “Rachael!” Jenna Hutchenson, who I vaguely recognized as one of Sophie’s third-tier cronies, handed me a tag. “How good to see you! Here’s your nametag. And is this your boyfriend?” She beamed up at Ryan.

  “Uh-huh. ” I beamed just as brightly before dragging Ryan away. I stood on my tiptoe to speak in his ear. “And this is a small town. I did mention that, didn’t I?”

  “I caught on when I met all your friends last night. ”

  “No, no. ” I waved that away. “That wasn’t small-towniness. The fact that everyone here is going to know exactly who you are and how long we’ve been together, despite my friends only meeting you yesterday and Sophie last week—that is going to be the small-town effect. ”

  “Uh, I did mention I grew up in the country, didn’t I? I think I have you beat on small towns. ” He took in the hall. “Though you guys definitely have us beat on suburbia. This is unbelievable. This isn’t your twenty-fifth year reunion. This isn’t even your ten-year reunion. Why the hell did you guys rent this whole place?”

  “Casey Michael’s aunt owns it. And, as I heard it last night, apparently she cut us a deal five years ago where our senior class booked it for like a quarter of the price. ” I shrugged. “Apparently that’s where the money from all those car washes went. ”

  He shook his head in disbelief.

  I surveyed the room. There were already about a hundred of us, the girls dressed like they were ready for the red carpet, the guys mostly in jeans and khakis. Clumps had formed, and my mouth curved up. Were we all going to stand around in the same cliques we had been in during high school?

  At one corner of the bar, I saw about half my friends, toying slightly with letting one of the other clumps join. Lead members of each group chatted with each other, while the rest hung back. I aimed us in their direction.

  “Rachael Hamilton?”

  Surprised and pleased someone outside my group wanted to talk to me, I turned to find a cluster of girls with strikingly similar hairstyles and makeup standing by my elbow. They stared at me with faces I half-remembered, and I felt guilty for not recalling their names. “Hi! How are you?”

  “Great,” one said, her voice husky.

  “How have you been?” The second’s eyes slipped toward Ryan. Actually, all their gazes did, and they angled their bodies at him, too.

  Seriously?

  I grimaced apologetically. “Small town. ”

  “As long as no photographers show up,” he murmured for my ears only. I laughed as he turned on the charm and greeted the girls.

  A few minutes later, Madison snuck up to my side. She took in the girls hanging on Ryan’s every word, and then dismissed them with the same utter disdain she’d mastered in high school. Nice to know some things never changed. “This is embarrassing. But my brothers heard from Zac’s little sister that you brought Ryan, and they basically attacked me and begged for an autograph. It was pathetic, really. But. ”

  I grinned at her. “Go for it. ”

  She scowled. “Please don’t make me ask. ”

  I raised my brows at her. It was good for Madison to be embarrassed.

  “He’s talking to those clone girls,” she whined.

  I squeezed her hand, feeling cheerful. “And I am so happy we now have a reason to ditch them. ” I touched Ryan’s arm. “Ryan, I think you met Madison yesterday? One of my best friends. ”

  Ryan, being Ryan, not only signed the poster the twins had sent in with Madison, but went a step beyond. “We’re going back to the city early in the morning. I have practice. But maybe next time we’re here we could swing by. ”

  “All right,” Madison muttered to me as the three of us headed over to our larger group of friends. “It’s possible this one’s a keeper. ”

  After half an hour or so, the former senior class officers—whose post graduation life I had yet to learn anything about—ushered us into the adjoining hall, where rows of folding chairs were set up before a slightly raised platform. Long wide windows stretched along one wall, letting in natural lights during the day, but now the room dimmed and all the focus went to the stage.

  Sophie came out in red from head to toe, ruby talons matching killer stilettos. This was the girl I remembered from high school, not the overly sweet one in my parents’ presence.

  “Hey, everyone,” she purred, and about half the class hooted in response. She let out a laugh. “I’m so happy you all came. I can’t believe how long it’s been since we were all together. Just like high school, right? But with more alcohol. Well, more out in the open. ” She paused and grinned at the rolling laugher. “I’d like to thank Casey for convincing her aunt to rent us the Inn at a way better rate than any of the other classes. And I’d also like to welcome my friend Ryan Carter, who squeezed us into his busy schedule. ”

  She flashed painfully white teeth as the entire room swiveled to stare at Ryan, as though everyone knew exactly where he sat and was just waiting for a socially acceptable moment to stare at him. One genius cried out “Go Pats!” and awkward, embarrassed titters echoed across the hall.

  “Thanks, Soph,” Ryan called out, as though the two hundred odd eyes fastened on him didn’t exist. “Now I hear there’s a slideshow?”

  “There sure is. ” Sophie clicked a button on her computer with a flourish. “Welcome back to Ashbury High!”

  The lights dimmed, and the Top 40 from almost a decade ago came on, songs we had danced to at proms and clips from quickly loved, quickly forgotten bands. We watched four years of braces and bad hair and pimples. For the first two, I hardly showed up, the pictures dominated by Sophie’s gang, but as upperclassmen my friend group had come into its own, and if felt like a third of these photos were ours. Our faces shone with such love, such happiness, as though we had the whole world at our feet.

  The lights came back on and everyone clapped. Ryan gave me a quizzical look. “You always dismiss high school. But you looked so happy. ”

  “I know. ” We followed the crowd back into the entertainment hall. Most headed straight for the bar. “I guess sometimes I forget. But parts of it were really good. ”

 
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ALLISON PARR SERIES:

New York Leopards