Imaginary Linespart #3 of New York Leopards Series by Allison Parr / Young Adult / Romance & Love
Four Years Ago
I splashed cold water on my face before bracing myself on the sink’s edge. Leaning forward, I spoke intently to my reflection. “You can do this. ”
Luckily, my reflection didn’t answer, as that would mean I was completely certifiable, instead of just halfway there. My lungs constricted tightly and my entire body jittered, like I’d imbibed four cups of coffee and not a single piece of food. My toes curled as the tingles wound up from my feet to my calves, like barbed ivy that spiked me with adrenaline. Any moment, I might spontaneously combust and turn this tiny bar bathroom into a scene from Dexter.
God, I needed to get a hold of myself. I was nineteen years old. Long past time to carpe that diem.
I smoothed concealer over a fading spot and then gloss over my lips. My wild curly hair didn’t resemble Medusa’s as much as usual, which was a plus, and the wraparound sundress I wore was an attractive departure from my usual T-shirt and sweats, even if I felt a little awkward in a skirt. Plus, the red cotton brought out the copper in my curls. When we were sixteen, Abe had told me red really suited me, and I’d worn it when I saw him ever since.
With one last sweep of the mirror, I stepped back out into the smoky bar and walked with slow, measured steps to the table. I just had to keep taking even breaths. I wouldn’t have any difficulties unless I forgot to breathe, which, fine, had been known to happen. Especially in eighth-grade health class, when the teacher discussed the ramifications of smoking. I’d passed out and spent the rest of the period eating saltines in the nurse’s office.
Not that anything like that was about to happen now.
No, I was going to go up to Abe, and confidently, maturely and seductively tell him that I loved him. I’d been gearing up ever since he came home last week for the Draft party, and I was finally ready after five days of sitting on my hands and freaking out. As though some impending pressure sat on my chest like a giant, suffocating, divine cat that said: This is it. Now or never.
I’d hopped down to L. A. and crashed with my best friend Gabi. She said the school was so big she never saw Abe, though she heard about him all the time; as the star center linebacker of the UCLA Bruins, he couldn’t avoid being a centerpiece of gossip. I’d once considered following Abe wherever he went for college, but that was before I’d decided that the best way to deal with unrequited love was to try to ignore it. I’d gone to Berkley instead, and never regretted the decision.
But after seeing Abe last week, after realizing that as soon as he turned twenty-one he’d be whisked off to training camp across the country. . . This actually was my last chance. He was never going to just realize that he loved me, because we were starting completely different lives.
He’d invited me out for dinner as soon as I messaged him that I was coming down for two nights. Abraham had always been good-natured, but after being drafted by the New York Leopards, he’d become positively radiant with happiness and good wishes. What better time to confess how much I loved him?
Unfortunately, as I reached our table, Abe had vanished. Only his football friends remained. I moved up behind them, made awkward and a little shy by these man-boys who hadn’t paid me any attention, and pitched my voice louder than usual. It came out high with nerves. “Hey, where’s Abe?”
One of them, Jorge, glanced up briefly. “Think he went outside. ”
Okay. So there’d been a slight hitch in my plan. I nodded my thanks and headed past the bouncer who hadn’t bothered to card our group, and into Westwood Village.
I’d thought I’d been nervous before, but for some reason my stomach tightened when the cool night air rolled over me. My palms began to sweat. Still, I kept forcing myself to take and release deep breaths. I had started on this path and I wouldn’t turn back now. This had been years in the making.
I turned the corner and Abraham’s broad shoulders came into view. He stood beneath a street lamp, and the dispersed light warmed his faintly curling hair from the color of dark sand to honey.
And then a giggle floated out, and I stopped.
Abe shifted, and I saw what his shoulders had blocked before: a girl in a trendy top and skinny jeans, her hair impeccably cut and highlighted. She fluttered her sooty lashes with great mastery, and her voice floated clearly down the sidewalk. “But what about that girl you were with earlier?”
Leave now, my gut told me, a direct contrast to the orders from the cat on my chest. Nothing good comes to eavesdroppers.
But my feet were bolted to the pavement.
“What, Tamar?” Abe’s tone was light and playful, his voice a melodic baritone. “She’s just a family friend. ”
The girl spoke goadingly. “She’s pretty. ”
Abe’s voice dropped an octave. “Not as pretty as you. ” His head lowered and my breath caught in a hard, condensed pit.
But the girl outmaneuvered him, her shiny locks spinning in the lamplight. Her hand came up to rest against Abe’s chest in a flirtatious protest. “She seemed to like you. ”
The pit acted like a dark hole, sucking my chest into the cavity of emotion.
Abe let out an exasperated groan, tilting his head enough that I could see his perfect profile, his strong jaw and Roman nose, his skin kissed by the strong sun. He was youth and strength and everything I’d ever wanted. “Trust me, I’m not interested in Tamar. She’s like a little sister. ”
A high-pitched squeak cut through the night, and the couple froze. As did I, hand to throat, berating my vocal cords for betraying me. Straight ahead, the girl’s eyes widened and fastened on mine. Her lips neared Abe’s ear as she whispered to him.
He started, and spun around, surprisingly light on his feet for a linebacker. The full force of surprise on his beautiful, good-natured face slammed into me like the discordant screech of an orchestra. “Tamar. ”
I shook my head like I could negate my presence, and turned and fled.
Other bars, loud with laughter and music, lined the street, and I passed groups of students flying high with the successes of the night. The triumph of the UCLA Bruins was everywhere; here, they didn’t paint the town red, but blue and gold.
Why had I worn my new wedges? The back of my heel chafed enough that I could picture the blister tomorrow, and it made me limp and lose momentum. Stupid. I was so, so stupid.
I didn’t turn around until he caught my wrist, and then affected surprise when he spun me to face him. “Oh. Abe. Hi. ”
We’d lived down the street from each other for most our lives, and I recognized most of his expressions. It wasn’t difficult: Abe’s friendly face had always been the definition of an open book, and now I easily read frustration and chagrin.
I swallowed, wanting to head this off before it started. “I am so sorry I interrupted you two—”
His eyes were dark pools of empathy, framed by disarmingly long lashes. “Tamar. Stop. ”
I did, but only for a second. “What?”
“I didn’t mean for you to hear that. ”
I raised my hands, which conveniently pulled my wrist out of his grip. “No worries. I mean, it was a little awkward, but when am I not awkward, right? I mean, remember that time in tenth grade—”