Rush me, p.6
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       Rush Me, p.6

         Part #1 of New York Leopards series by Allison Parr
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Page 6

  I must have made a noise, because the buzz-cut guy spoke up. “What? You think you could do better?”

  I shrugged. I’d grown up playing poker on family nights, but my real skill lay in my memory. When I was ten, I spent hours sitting in my room, flipping cards in random orders and practicing my memorization skills. I didn’t have any problems holding 52 cards in my mind, and Malcolm’s crucial card was buried. “Maybe. ”

  “We’re almost finished. You want us to deal you in the next game?” The redhead grinned at me. He had a scattering of freckles across his nose, and when he smiled like that he looked like a mischievous imp. Puck on steroids.

  “All right,” I said, surprising all of them. They shifted over so I could squeeze in. Goatee dealt me a hand and a patronizing smile.

  Three rounds later, I had half the table’s money.

  “That’s it. ” Dylan, the diamond-studded guy folded yet again. “That is no beginner’s luck. ”

  I suppressed a smile. “Never said it was. ” Keith of the goatee and ginger Mike O’Connor had also folded, while Malcolm and opened-face Abe were still in, the latter doing a pretty good job at holding his own.

  “Where’d you learn to play?” Abe discarded the eight of spades. I glanced over at it, as though I wasn’t desperate for it to complete my straight flush. Malcolm, who seemed to be collecting twos, ignored it in favor of a card from the deck. Well, at least he wouldn’t be hoarding it.

  “Oh, just playing with my family. ”

  “Did they teach you to count cards, too? ’Cause if they did, you’re totally invited next time I go to Vegas. ”

  I laughed. This one acted a little goofier than others, more like a college kid than a football star.

  “Abe’s a California boy,” Mike said. “Being so far from Vegas makes him twitchy. ”

  “And New York?” I lightly discarded the three I’d just drawn. “Does it live up to your expectations?”

  We all anted up.

  “Yeah, it’s all right. ” Now that I knew, I could detect the Californian slouch, the slightly more languid movement. “Didn’t have huge expectations, you know. But sure, it’s nice. Crap weather. ”

  Whatever. California didn’t have weather. “But we have real pizza,” I pointed out. “And bagels. ” I looked at the others for agreement.

  Dylan of the shaved head and glittering earrings shook his head. “Don’t bother. They’re all outsiders. Irish is Boston. Malcolm’s from Kentucky, and Keith. . . Somewhere else. They won’t understand. ”

  Keith scowled. “South Dakota. ”

  Dylan gave me a speaking look about the elseness of South Dakota.

  “I miss California pizza,” Abe said a little sadly. “I guess the bagels here are all right. But it takes like five minutes to chew them. ”

  Hmph. “They’re authentic. ”

  Malcolm folded. I shuffled. Malcolm picked a card. Discarded it. Eight of spades.

  Win.

  I picked it up.

  Abe nodded. “So I hear. But I was at this place up by Columbia the other day and the bagel shop was run by a Thai family. Where are the Jews?”

  My lips twitched. “Everywhere else,” I muttered. “This is New York. ” I discarded my extraneous Jack of Hearts. Then I placed my cards on the table. Abe groaned, and flung down his own cards as the other guys laughed.

  Then I noticed Abe studying me, like he’d picked up on the cue I’d dropped. I gave him another once over. Dirty blond hair, sure, and way too muscular, but the hair had a bit of a curl and his nose could pass. “You’re Jewish! What are you doing for Rosh Hashanah?”

  Yeah, okay. “Going home,” I told him. “My family’s only a couple of hours away. ”

  “That’s great. ” He switched from a young, peppy tone to forlorn in half a second. “My parents live in California. I don’t have anywhere to go. ”

  As though a football player couldn’t afford to fly cross-country for the holidays. Ha. Still, he was giving me that look. Forget a Leopard; this one was a puppy.

  And I’d been alone for the holidays in college, once or twice. It was awful. “You can come with me, if you want. ” My poker-winning endorphins must have turned me easy-going. “We usually have a bunch of people. ”

  “Yeah! That would be great!”

  I couldn’t quite smother my smile.

  Mike collected the cards and Malcolm the pizza orders as I swept my new coins into my purse. I didn’t look up until a brief lull, and Malcolm said, “Rachael?”

  All the boys regarded me expectantly, and I stared back, startled as a deer. Coming over here had been unavoidable; playing poker accidental; but an invitation to pizza meant we were hanging out on purpose. My walls slammed up and I opened my mouth to say no.

  Then I hesitated. Why shouldn’t I stay here? I didn’t feel threatened by these guys, who were so utterly out of my world that hanging out with them felt like spending time with aliens. “Uh, yeah. ” I shot Malcolm a smile. “I’ll have the cheese. Thanks. ”

  Malcolm phoned in the order to a place called The General, and then pulled two six packs of beer from the fridge. Keith charitably opened one and slid it over, and I took it, too dumbfounded to do anything else.

  Okay. This was officially weird.

  The guys coordinated enough to pull several of the couches forward, circling the wide screen TV. “Hey, Rach,” Abe called, sitting on the sofa directly in front of the television and patting the cushion next to him. “Saved you the good seat. ”

  I smiled tentatively and sat. Usually I’d excuse myself at this point, if, you know, things like this actually happened to me. I was not a sit-down-and-watch-sports-with-the-guys sort of girl.

  But maybe I could experiment.

  The TV was on, but mostly the guys just joked around without paying too much attention. Apparently there were twenty minutes until the game started. “Who’s playing?” I asked Abe. I didn’t ask what sport. I was pretty sure that would be sacrilegious.

  Mike dropped down on my other side. “Michigan and Notre Dame. ”

  So, a state and a badly mangled Parisian cathedral. “Oh. Cool. ”

  Mike grinned at me. “You’re pretty clueless about us, aren’t you?”

  I spread my hands apologetically. “I’m kind of more of a book person. ”

  “She works in publishing,” Malcolm called from the other couch. I nodded, surprised he’d remembered that detail.

  “Really?” Mike said. “I have a cousin who does book covers. She’s really good. Does a lot of those simple, one or two color ones—what was the last? The Last First Daughter? Won an award. ”

  “Really? I saw that! Pale blue, with the cookie cutter outlines?”

  He nodded, pleased. “Yeah, that’s the one. ”

  “I’ll have to look it up. ” I glanced at the screen again. “So, are you guys playing tomorrow?”

  “We have a Monday game this week. It shouldn’t be that bad. ” For half a second, his face fell into a doubtful grimace, and then he wiped it away. “You going to watch?”

  “Uh, yeah,” I said, since I didn’t want to hurt his feelings. He smiled at me, and I smiled at him, and I wondered if I was going to have to know anything else about football to carry on the conversation, or if we could go back to books.

 
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ALLISON PARR SERIES:

New York Leopards