Rush me, p.69
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       Rush Me, p.69

         Part #1 of New York Leopards series by Allison Parr
Page 69

  “Leave her alone. ” Tanya Jones shot an irritated look at Bruge. “She’s working, not here to catch a boyfriend. ”

  “Then she oughta be careful about how she dresses. ” When Tanya glared even harder at him, he laughed and backed away. “I’m just sayin’. . . ”

  “What’s he saying?”

  Anger deepened the lines in Tanya’s face, but she drained it away with a sigh. “There’s been some fuss about women in the locker rooms. We go there after the game,” she explained. “So we can get interviews out as quick as possible. But occasionally, there’s some backlash against women going in, because the guys sometimes holler. And then they don’t get blamed, but the women do, for wearing inappropriate clothing. ”

  I was shocked. “That’s ridiculous. I mean—are guys allowed in the equivalent? What about gay guys? Are they allowed in?”

  “Men are allowed in the WNBA locker rooms. And there are parts of the locker rooms that are hidden from sight, for those who want privacy when showering and dressing. ”

  I would definitely want privacy. I wouldn’t want people shoving microphones in my face while half dressed and still digesting the outcome of a game. Especially not when I lost. I bristled on the guys’ behalf.

  The Leopards were six points behind when the third quarter started, and I watched with furrowed brows and white knuckles, my fingers clenching my pen. Ryan played with a raw energy and recklessness I hadn’t seen before, and when he slammed into the ground, his legs twisting in the air like a rag doll’s, I bit my lip until I tasted blood.

  I turned to Tanya. “What’s he doing? He’s not usually so crazy. ”

  Tanya tapped her fingers against the desk. “I don’t know. He was like this last week, too. Could be he’s letting his personal life interfere with his game, though he’s usually better than that. ”

  I straightened, startled. “What about his personal life?”

  She shook her head. “There’re rumors he has a girlfriend. But he’s never let anything affect him before. ” Her expression was cool, analytical. “He’s made some great long passes, but he’s acting unpredictably. ”

  I swallowed and stared down at him. It shook me, the idea that I—that what we had—could affect something this large, a game that so many others depended on.

  “Do you think they’ll win? I mean, not just this game, but—how far do you think they’ll go?”

  Tanya considered this. “They won the AFC Championship the last go-around, though they had Danvers and Gutierrez in that line-up. But after they bounced back from that crash, they’ve been steady, and they still have Carter and Lindsey. Krasner’s a good change—he’ll get Rookie of the Year, no doubt. ” She shrugged. “I’d peg them for the division winner, at least. ”

  I nodded, and we went back to the game.

  By the end, my stomach had tied into a knot. I watched a kick-off that pulled the Leopards even in the last ten minutes, and then, in the last three, watched Ryan pass the ball one last time, ridiculously, impossibly tipping into Malcolm’s hands. As everyone around me cheered and wrote and clapped each other on the back, my entire body trembled from stress. When Bruge’s thick hand landed on my shoulder, I almost jumped from sheer nerves. “Showtime, darling. ” He smiled his white smile. “Let’s go meet the Leopards. ”

  We flowed downstairs, a mass of badges and cameras and recorders. Then we stopped, in front of the locker room, waiting the requisite ten minutes that the players stole for privacy.

  When the doors opened, I filed in with the rest. By then, some of the players were already dressed in street clothes, but many more were in various states of undress. They lumbered about, laughing and snapping with energy, knocking into each other and pulling on pants. I saw more of Keith and Dylan than I had ever expected to see, and more back hair in general than I’d realized existed. The room smelled like sweat, and damp jerseys were still being whipped off by the slower players. There were towels and skin and tape; lots and lots of athletic tape, crumpled and sticking to things, all over the place.

  Eddie Bruges immediately latched onto Malcolm, who grinned and laughed, beaming with happiness. The other reporters started angling for a player, or lining up behind particular guys. I craned my neck, trying to find Ryan, but I couldn’t see him anywhere.

  Fine. This would be a total loss if I just went home now. Since the guys I knew were out of range, I stepped over to a couple of half-dressed strangers. “Excuse me. I’m looking for Ryan. ”

  They looked at each other and laughed, and then leered at me. Oddly, I didn’t feel uncomfortable. I guess I was used to this particular football leer by now. One of them winked. “It’s a good thing you found me instead. ”

  Tanya was by my side in a moment, narrowing her eyes at the player. “Shove it, Garza. ” Then she turned them on me. “I wouldn’t start with Carter. ”

  I smiled a little awkwardly, appreciating her temerity but also wishing she would disappear. This was difficult enough. “Thanks. But I need to. ” Turning back to the guys, I asked, “Where is he? Can you get him?”

  “You’re wasting your breath,” the second one said. “Carter has a girlfriend. ”

  Beside me, Tanya perked up with journalistic interest. “What’s her name?”

  I scanned the room impatiently. “Ryan!” I shouted, unable to wait. “Ryan!”

  A couple of the other reporters eyed me censoriously.

  My gaze caught on a trim goatee. “Keith!”

  He turned and frowned. “Rachael?” In a minute, he had reached me, and glared at Tanya before refocusing on me. “What are you doing here? You should have come before the press. ”

  “I sort of came as press. Is Ryan here?”

  Tanya studied me with uncomfortable intensity. “You know Carter?”

  Abe bounded forward. “Rach! Was that a great game, or what?” He looked ready to pull me into a headlock or something, but I deterred him with a hug, laughing despite myself at his energy.

  “Yeah, it was great. ” I disentangled myself. “We’ll have a celebratory picnic or something, later. But right now, I’m trying to find Ryan. ”

  “How do you know Carter?” Tanya pressed.

  “Oh. ” Abe threw an uneasy look at Keith. “Malcolm!”

  And then Malcolm was there, pushing through the crowd and frowning down at me. “You all right? What’s wrong?”

  “Nothing,” I said in a small voice. “I just wanted to see Ryan. ”

  Bruges pushed his way forward in Malcolm’s wake. “What’s going on here? You bothering the little lady?”

  The little lady?

  Both Keith and Abe’s echoes sounded shocked. “The little lady?”

  “Is he here?” I asked Malcolm, who looked worried and unhappy and concerned. “Please, Malcolm. ”

  Malcolm just smiled sadly and stepped aside.

  At first I thought he was refusing to answer me. I thought I had been abandoned to the news critters at my sides, jabbering away, even as Keith, and now Dylan and one or two of the other Leopards who I had only met a time or two started telling them to back off. But then I saw a shadow, and then a foot, stepping out from what must be the private area of the locker room. He rubbed a white towel through his messy blond hair before slinging it around his neck. His chest, bare and newly washed, still gleamed with one or two droplets that had escaped the towel.

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