Rush me, p.65
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       Rush Me, p.65

         Part #1 of New York Leopards series by Allison Parr
Page 65

  I nodded.

  “Good. We’ll make it official then. ”

  As I stepped out into the cold December wind, joy warmed me, excitement bubbling up and spreading from my fingers to my wide-spread grin. I wanted to hum, to dance down the streets, to laugh out loud, to tell the world. . .

  I wanted to tell Ryan.

  The grin slowly collapsed, and I pulled my coat tighter.

  I couldn’t. We hadn’t spoken since the reunion. Every time I’d tried to pick up the phone, my courage had depleted. Every time I thought about the insults hurled, my stomach curled in on itself.

  I lifted my face into the bracing, stinging air. Maybe it was better this way. We hadn’t worked out. We’d been too alike; too stubborn, too passionate, too immature. But wasn’t that what relationships, what life, was about—figuring out who you were, what you wanted? Trying things and then when they failed, learning from your mistakes? That’s what this had been—a learning relationship. Ryan had been right in the end—I did need to grow up. I had judged him off the bat and it had affected our relationship for the worse until we were nothing.

  That was what I should be taking away. I should try to be more open and give people the benefit of the doubt. Next time I wouldn’t go in with so many defenses and so much scorn. We would start from a better place.

  Except I didn’t want there to be a next time. I still wanted this time.

  My phone rang before I reached the subway, and my stomach tightened at Mike’s name. I’d seen him and Abe and the other usual suspects once since I’d come back, with a glaring hole in the group. The guys hadn’t seemed to notice; they accepted Ryan’s excuses that he was busy, and when they needled me about him they didn’t seem to expect a response. I didn’t know why Ryan hadn’t told them we were over, but I couldn’t make myself because then I might lose these friends, too. Still, every time I saw them the knife twisted even deeper.

  “What’s up?”

  Mike sounded panicked. “You’re still in the city, right? You haven’t gone home from work? You’ve got to get over here. Bri’s freaking out. ”

  I frowned. “What? What are you talking about? Come where?”

  “Oh, right. Sorry. We’re at Per Se. ”

  “The Thomas Keller restaurant?” I swallowed. Per Se was generally considered to be one of the best restaurants in New York; some lists put it at one of the top in the world. I wouldn’t know, of course; I tended not to spend three-hundred-plus dollars on a meal.

  “What happened?”

  Malcolm had spilled the beans to the guys; he’d planned to propose to Briana at Per Se tonight. Several of the guys, thinking themselves sneaky, snuck into the restaurant. I wasn’t sure how one snuck into Per Se. I supposed it had to do with that special NFL treatment again. They planned to wait until after the proposal, and then to pop out with a bottle of champagne and a cheer before vanishing again.

  Only now, for some reason, Briana had locked herself in the ladies’ room and Malcolm had stormed out, leaving the guys unsure of what to do.

  It didn’t take me long to get there. When I did, a knot of Leopards greeted me. “At least try to get her out of there,” Mike begged. “We can’t just leave her locked in the bathroom, but we have no idea when Malcolm will be back. ”

  I nodded, automatically searching for Ryan. I hadn’t seen him for two weeks, and I wasn’t entirely sure I wanted to see him now. Just the thought made my stomach tense and my lungs constrict and—there was Abe, shaking his head. “He went after Malcolm. ”

  Fine. I had Bri to sort out, anyway.

  The restaurant employees were pleased to finally have a female to deal with the hysterical woman in their bathroom. Apparently, she had been scaring the other customers, which was not a phrase I would ever have thought to apply to Briana Harris. I pushed open the bathroom door and found her sitting on the floor of the tiny antechamber, knees tugged up, head down.

  “Bri? What’s wrong?”

  She looked up, her dark lashes spiky with unshed tears, her warm eyes gleaming with them. “Malcolm asked me to marry him. ”

  “Congratulations,” I said automatically. Maybe they were tears of joy?

  She shook her head. “I said no. ”

  Completely taken aback, I dropped into the chair next to her. “How come?”

  She exploded, jerking upright, her hands waving out. “I don’t know! Because we’re not right for each other!” A drop wobbled out through her bottom lashes, and she whisked it away with the back of her hand. “He started going on and on about how he loves me, and he wants to have a family with me, and he can just see our perfect little children—and I don’t even want children!”

  “Oh. ” This seemed like the kind of thing serious couples ought to discuss before proposals. “Did he know that?”

  “Oh, yes. Sort of. Maybe not entirely. ” Her vehemence drained a little with each word. “It’s just that his family is so kid-oriented. And Malcolm would be such a good dad, you can tell. He loves kids. And I like them. Sort of. But I think I was born without the maternal gene!

  “And I still have three years before I finish my doctorate! And then—then I want to live in Paris, and I want to see Africa, and Malcolm just wants to play football and then live in Kentucky. Kentucky! Oh my God! People have Confederate flags in Kentucky! Racist bastards. ”

  I grabbed her hands, and she clung to mine as though to a lifeline. “Okay. ” I had no idea how to deal with this. I was used to Briana acting cool, not breaking down in a bathroom stall. “Well—do you love him?”

  “Yes!” she wailed. “But so what? That doesn’t guarantee a happily ever after!”

  I wished it did.

  She pushed to her feet, pulling me up by our locked hands. “I have to get out of here. ” She looked around wildly as though a door to Narnia would appear.

  “Okay. Do you want to. . . go get a drink?”

  “No. No, I want to get out of this state. Because any minute, Malcolm’s going to come back, and he’s going to have, oh, logical things to say, and he’ll talk about love, and I’ll crack, and I just can’t deal with that anymore. I have to think. ”

  “Then we’ll get out of here. Where do you want to go?”

  She looked even more depressed. “Nowhere. Everyone adores Malcolm. No one would understand. I don’t even want to be around people. ”

  Well, we could always head to Maine for utter desolation, but that might be a little tricky. “My friend has a place in Rhinebeck. We could take the train. ”

  She lit up with sudden, desperate hope.

  Half an hour later, we were backing out of Penn Station, headed upstate. Neither of us had packed, because Bri didn’t want to risk slowing down. It was just us and several sushi trays from the station. We’d gone vegetarian; neither of us dared trust actual fish would be safe.

  “Did Malcolm ever tell you how we met?” Bri asked, staring out the window. The Hudson River rushed by, a wide, dark expanse under the deepening navy sky. I shook my head, my ghost-like reflection mimicking the movement.

  “We were in Santa Barbara. It’s gorgeous. All palm trees and beaches and Spanish architecture. We were there during a festival for Spanish heritage. Street vendors sold these painted eggs filled with confetti that everyone cracked on each other’s heads for good luck. My friend Jess and I were visiting for the weekend, joking around, and I tried to hit her with an egg and she ran away, and I ended up hitting Malcolm instead. Pink and yellow and blue confetti burst all over him. He just stood there, shocked. ” She stopped, and sighed. “The ring box was filled with confetti. ”

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