Rush me, p.66
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       Rush Me, p.66

         Part #1 of New York Leopards series by Allison Parr
 
Page 66

  Silent and morose, we watched the river and blurring trees. I wondered how much of this came from nerves, and how much from relationship problems. If she loved him, shouldn’t they be able to make this work? I’d never seen such a well-matched couple.

  “You and Ryan are perfect for each other. ”

  The odd parallel to my own thoughts jolted me into a firm shake of my head. “No, we’re not. ” Not like Bri and Malcolm.

  She looked up sharply. “What are you talking about? Of course you are. ”

  I didn’t want to add my problems to hers, so I just shrugged lightly. “We fight too much. ”

  She waved it away. “Everyone fights. You’ll get over it. ”

  “No, it’s—he’s so insecure, and I get so defensive—it’s childish, really. ”

  “Then it’s easy to get over. ”

  I bit my lip. Maybe it would have been, once. If we knew how to compromise. If I could figure out how to be independent and still let him in. If I had called him or if he had come by. We had blown this all out of proportion, and I didn’t think we could recover.

  The train left us in a tiny hamlet, halfway to nowhere. A lighthouse flashed across the water, while on our side a white-washed inn gave us directions to my friend’s address. We walked for two miles to reach her apartment and found the spare key hidden in the false bottom of a garden gnome.

  We spent a lot of time walking over the next twenty-four hours. “Not thinking,” Bri said definitively the first evening, over a pizza and bottle of wine. We bought lots of pizza and wine, along with PJs, a change of clothes, and lots of chocolate. “I just look at things. At the water. At the animals. Sometimes there are deer. ”

  I didn’t usually go with her, since I was busy working on the website with Alexa. But on the second day I walked with her down along the Hudson. The ground had frozen, the grass turned crisp and white with frost. Trees lined the river, barren excusing one or two yellow and brown leaves clinging to the skeletal branches. The sky was spectacular, covered in streaks of white and grey, lit from behind the clouds. I shoved my hands in my coat pockets, shivering, as Bri climbed down the hill toward the river and the railway tracks.

  What was I going to do?

  Ryan had been wrong. I’d brought him to the reunion because I wanted him to meet my friends and family. But he’d also been right—he’d had to cajole me to let him come.

  Could he have been right about other things? I knew I liked control, but was it really so childish to not let him help me? Where did independence start and end? Had I not been making as much of an effort as I thought I had?

  My phone rang. Malcolm. I hesitated, looking over at Bri by the water, and then I picked up. “Hello?”

  “Rach, hi. ” Malcolm sounded frazzled and worried. “Have you talked to Bri lately? The guys said she left with you. ”

  “Uh. . . ” I turned my back on her. Before me, the hill rose, covered with brambles and sticks and dead bushes. “Yeah. What happened with you guys?”

  “I proposed to her, that’s what,” he snapped, in a totally un-Malcolm like manner. “And she went green and ran out. I don’t know why—I thought we were going to get married. . . Rachael, why would she say no?”

  “Um,” I stalled, thinking quickly. What was I supposed to say here? Did I tell him that she said no because she was confused and they wanted different things? No, that was up to her.

  What I really wanted to know was whether to tell him where Bri was.

  Would that be a betrayal of her trust? Or was that what she wanted? Did she want Malcolm to appear, to sweep her off her feet, or did she want to cool down, to wait and do this on her own terms? Or would she already have convinced herself never to have anything to do with him by that point?

  “I don’t know. I mean—how did you propose? You didn’t—say anything strange, did you?”

  That obviously offended him. “I told her I loved her. That I wanted to have a family with her. I wanted her to be part of my family. ”

  Hmm. I tried to be careful. “Bri always struck me as a—not entirely family oriented person. ”

  “What are you talking about?”

  “You know, I’m really sorry Malcolm, but I should go. Just, first—have you talked to Ryan?” I winced. Bringing up my own issues wasn’t exactly sensitive.

  “Ryan?” Malcolm sounded even more thrown. “Yeah, I guess, I saw him yesterday. Why? You mean since then? Does he know anything about Bri?”

  “No, I, I just wanted to know if he’d mentioned anything. About me. ”

  There was a long pause. “Are you and Ryan fighting?”

  “He hasn’t said anything?”

  “No. What would he say?”

  A wisp of sad laughter caught in my throat. “I think we broke up. ”

  Malcolm was silent for a moment, and when he spoke, he sounded as sincere and earnest as I’d ever heard him. “Ryan loves you, Rachael. He’s crazy about you. ”

  I held the phone pressed to my ear for a long, airless moment. “Briana loves you, too,” I told him. “Bye. ”

  I slowly made my way down to Bri. With her back to me, and the Hudson spread out before her, she could have stepped out of a Turner painting. She didn’t say anything until I had maneuvered my way to her, stepping carefully over fallen trunks and avoiding muddy swamps.

  “Let’s go back. ” For a moment my heart jumped, thinking she meant home. “To the apartment,” she corrected, as though she could read my thoughts. “It’s getting too cold. ”

  * * *

  I woke in the middle of the night to the rhythmic beating of the rain, the constant drops pounding away above and beside me. Light streaked under my door. I slipped out of bed, wrapping one of my blankets around my shoulders, and followed it to the living room. The dim ceiling lamp cast a pale circle around the center of the room. A moth beat its large wings against the bulb, over and over, flying into it in an endless quest for light and death.

  Bri sat at the table, staring at the ring.

  “What am I doing?” She twisted the ring over, the diamonds tossing light against the walls. The reflections scattered eerily across the dark corners. Ghostlike. I flipped two more of the lights on. Without them, the huge windows let in too much darkness, like the night itself had crept into the room.

  “Maybe you should go back. Talk to Malcolm. ”

  She shook her head. “I can’t. I’ll hurt him too much. Better he doesn’t have to hear a no. I could just. . . slip away. ” She watched the rain streaking down the glass, at the distorted moon beyond. “I could go to Paris now. Finish my dissertation from abroad. ”

  I sat down across from her. “Yes,” I agreed. “You could. ”

  She held the ring, hovering, in front of her finger. From below thick lashes, she glanced up at me. “I haven’t tried it on yet. ”

  “Go ahead,” I said, as though she needed my permission.

  Bri bit her lip, her hands wavering. Then she closed her eyes and slid the ring on, settling it firmly on her finger. Once there, she let out a deep sigh, as though all the tension had left her body. She regarded her hand wistfully. “It looks right, doesn’t it?”

  I wouldn’t edge her one way or the other, but I did say, “It’s beautiful. ”

 
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ALLISON PARR SERIES:

New York Leopards