Today's Reading

Alone in her bed under the skylight, Annie felt it all merge, the by now free-floating sexual alertness that had lingered from her afternoon with Jeff, and her happy encounter with Graham. She might have felt bad about using the sensations she'd had with Jeff to feed her response to another man, but she didn't. It didn't seem complicated at all to her—just the necessary way she'd stumbled onto Graham.

He interested her, she thought.

And then: C'mon, how could you even begin to know that? You exchanged about two words.

But he had seemed so open, so without caution or defenses. So sweet, really. So eager—for her, certainly, but also somehow for life, she would have said. In the dark, thinking of him, she was smiling.

The next evening she stopped in at the bookstore. It was miraculously clean. The shelves that had been pushed against the walls the night before were back in place, filling the room. There were comfortable chairs set here and there, floor lamps next to them. Graham was busy behind the long checkout counter in front of the plate-glass window, talking, answering questions, manning the cash register. Annie chose a book almost at random from the fiction section—something by John Gardner—and got in line.

When it was her turn, he looked up and his face changed. "Ah, it's Annie!" he said, grinning. Then a moment of doubt. He looked worried, suddenly. "Isn't that it? Annie?" he asked. She nodded, and he smiled again, more slowly. "What are you doing here?"

"This." She held her book up, and he took it. While he was ringing her up, Annie said, "Also I thought maybe I could walk you home."

His hands stopped. He looked at her. His face lifted in a way she would become familiar with, a way that meant he was purely happy, a way that would come to mean that she was happy too.

"Well, you'd have to wait," he said. "I don't get off till ten."

"I can wait," she said.

"Music to my ears," he said.

And so it began, with Graham.

Annie misunderstood it at first, probably partly because the sex worked so well between them from the start. Happy sex. Seemingly uncomplicated. As soon as they began to sleep together, her worries about it vanished. In bed he moved above her, below her, inside her, as if in an element made for him. Swimming in sex—easily, slowly. More of the same in Annie's life, but better.

For a while it didn't occur to her that it would ever be anything more than this. In her dizziness about how well things were going, she didn't notice the changes in him. In herself. She thought of herself as still sliding through the world in the same way—loose, free, wild. Why not?

It was true that she felt overwhelmed sometimes—by Grahams' size, by his energy, his appetite for people, for music, for food. By his appetite for her. It made her uncomfortable, occasionally. She actually slept with Jeff once again after she'd started with Graham. And with one other man, someone friends introduced her to, a bass player, who made her laugh in bed by remembering for her an early Chekhov story about a double bass and a naked woman. She thought of these adventures, she even explained them to Graham, as the result of a generalized excitement created by her affair with him. It was only looking back on them later that she understood she'd also been using them, using them as a way to resist Graham.

But Graham was persistent, a joyous lover, and enthusiast, and finally Annie gave over to him. How could she not? She'd been waylaid, really—by happiness, by his love for her, and then, more slowly, hers for him. By the end of the fifth month she'd known him, she'd moved into his place on Ware Street, a quick walk for him to the bookstore, for her a short drive to her studio in Somerville.

What she told people at first was that she'd moved because her very informal lease was coming up for renewal and the couple who owned the house that contained her attic apartment were going to raise her rent. But she knew, even before she and Graham spoke openly about it with each other, that a life together had begun. Within the year—actually on the anniversary of the store's opening ("The two happiest days of my life," he always said)—they were married.

Annie was happy too. But occasionally through their years together, and in spite of everything that was pleasureable and loving between them, she would feel it again, the sense of his having overtaken her somehow, overwhelmed her.

This excerpt ends on page 12 of the hardcover edition.

Monday we begin the book The Forgotten Sister by Nicola Cornick.

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