Rush me, p.8
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       Rush Me, p.8

         Part #1 of New York Leopards series by Allison Parr
 
Page 8

  And he let his out in a long, deflated sigh, thrusting my arms away. I rocked back on my heels, shoulders banging against the wall. He shook his head. “You’re pathetic. Get your scarf and go. ”

  “The game’s not over yet. ”

  He cocked his head, and I got the feeling I was being weighed and judged. “Fine. Tell me the score and you can stay. ”

  I bit my lip, and he walked out of the room.

  The rest of the guys didn’t seem to notice anything odd at my conveniently recalled “meeting. ” Ryan held the door open, insultingly attentive, as though I might try to stay if he didn’t usher me out. Chin high, I stepped over the threshold. I turned back, struggling for something to say, unable to find words under the weight of that blue stare. Then, eyes still locked with mine, Ryan closed the door in my face.

  As I walked down the stairs, I wrapped my arms around my stomach. My face fell and my guts were knotted and tight. Ryan had been right. I was pathetic. I’d wanted him to kiss me.

  * * *

  On Monday morning, I hopped on the R train into Manhattan. I’d applied for dozens of jobs after college, but when I didn’t even receive a cursory “Sorry, no thanks” from any of them, I’d ended up applying to dozens of internships, and finally landing one at Penelope Books. An imprint of Maples&Co, one of the Big Seven publishing houses, Penelope put out a lot of light-hearted women’s fiction and YA, with a dose of memoir added to the mix. Gretchen Sterowski started the imprint back in ’95, when she’d been hired away from another of the publishing houses. Penelope, like all of Maple&Co’s imprints, was housed in a twenty-story neo-Gothic building Midtown.

  I spent three days a week at my unpaid internship, while I temped on Tuesday and Thursday. That money paid my rent, but not my MetroCard and groceries, and my scanty savings dwindled at an alarming pace. If I couldn’t turn this internship into a job or snag a real one, I’d be back home in three months.

  Well, my parents would be pleased. They kept sending me articles about law school even as they paid lip service to my pursuit of the arts. And my best friend Kate had half-begged me to come home, but that was because she wanted entertainment. Working as a middle-school teacher apparently wasn’t the social contact she craved.

  But I’d stay here forever, given the chance. I loved everything about it, even saying hello to Christophe the security guard, riding the elaborately decorated and constantly malfunctioning elevator, and entering the offices stacked mile-high with books. I passed Gretchen’s office door, holding my coffee in one hand and my bagel in the other, and I felt exceedingly grown up. I’d liked AmeriCorps, but a very different part of me loved dressing up for work and looking down at Broadway from the ninth floor. “Morning, Gretchen. ”

  “Good morning. ” At fifty-six, Gretchen wore her short hair naturally salt-and-peppered, had a short, round body and matching cheeks, and had one of the sharpest minds I’d ever encountered. She juggled this job along with three children and a commute from Jersey. Now, she smiled from behind small glasses. “How was your weekend?”

  Bewildering. “Good. I bought a ticket for my high school reunion at Thanksgiving. How was yours?” I’d learned to keep my answers brief. Gretchen cared about her employees, but she only engaged in real conversation when she needed a break from her own work.

  “Good. ” The one word answer was my cue to smile and walk on by. I entered the office I shared with one of the other interns and Marie, an associate editor. Books spilled off shelves onto the floor, while posters of covers plastered the walls.

  Marie swiveled her chair around, her jean clad legs casually crossed tailor style. She gestured to a recycling bucket filled with mail. “Morning. Your presents are here. ”

  I smiled wryly. Twice a day, huge piles of mail arrived—manuscripts, galleys, final copies of books. Not to mention bills, advertisements, correspondences with international offices, and the occasional office supply. I plunked down on the carpet, armed with a letter opener, exacto-knife, and pen.

  I had hardly made a dent when I heard the clicking of designer heels in the hall, and Laurel McKenzie breezed in and dropped her Parisian purse on her chair. Like me, Laurel wanted to work in publishing, but she could always fall back and work at her father’s financial empire if no job appeared. “Guess what I did this weekend. ”

  Marie smiled tolerantly. “What?”

  “I went on a date to the Ivory Room!” Laurel leaned against her desk, too filled with energy or caffeine to start helping me with the packages. “He was gorgeous. Couldn’t keep the conversation off Wall Street for more than five seconds, but so good looking. And Rachael, you would have loved it. They had those, you know, those things. I wouldn’t eat them since spinach always gets stuck in my teeth, but I know how you love Greek food. ”

  “Spanokopita?”

  “Yeah! Those. ”

  I smiled. Laurel was a trip-and-a-half with her obliviousness to the recession, but we got along.

  We took our lunch break at a small pizzeria on 7th Ave, where I learned more about Laurel’s date than strictly necessary. “What about you?” she asked as we finished off our meal. “How was your weekend?”

  I decided against the unabridged version. Laurel would’ve been impressed, because celebrities impressed her, but it felt too private and I’d acted too badly with Ryan. “I saw John again. ”

  The first time I’d gone out with John, he’d wowed me with literary quotes, a degree from Yale, and rectangular glasses. On the second date, he’d taken me to see Spring Awakening. On the third, to his apartment. I’d practically swooned every time I’d seen him in his tan coat and polished loafers. Well-educated, well-dressed, employed and interested in me—what wasn’t to like? It had been my first week in the city and I’d been determined to make myself into the kind of person who easily slipped into relationships. The next day, I’d spilled the entire story to Laurel. I’d stupidly wanted to impress her, and dating an ad-agency executive seemed very Sex and the City.

  Now, Laurel leaned forward with vicarious interest. “What? Where?”

  “I was temping in the building he works in. He asked me out for a drink. ” I shook my head. “It was so awkward. ”

  “Did you say yes?”

  I set down my slice. “He has a girlfriend. Remember?”

  She waved a hand, leaning back in her chair. “Well, didn’t he say they were open?”

  “He did. ” I regarded my curved stick of pizza crust morosely before chomping down on one end. The problem was that I wasn’t entirely comfortable with the whole open-relationship thing, because I had thought that we were starting an exclusive relationship.

  Well, I never claimed to be people-smart.

  “And to be honest, I just so want to make out with someone, and it would be so easy to call him up. ” Ryan’s fault. Awful, nasty Ryan, who was so gorgeous that he’d ramped my horniness into full drive, and such a jerk that I certainly couldn’t do anything about it with him.

  “Well. ” Laurel shrugged, as though it was reason enough for infidelity. “John is hot. ” I’d shown her a picture from his company website. We were not Facebook friends. “And it’s not like you’d be cheating or whatever. So why don’t you just use him for a little harmless sex?”

 
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ALLISON PARR SERIES:

New York Leopards