Today's Reading

"Off the hook!" he cried. "Thank God!" He started to use the dampened napkins now to wipe at himself. "Free at last!" He looked at her. "Thank you. Thank you so much!"

He was grinning at Annie now, and she was smiling at him.

They were standing close, people pressing in at their backs.

After a moment that began to seem too long, he said, "Here, we both need more wine, don't we?"

"Well, I don't need it, but sure."

He reached over to the table, now a mess of empty and half-empty bottles, crumbs, plates daubed with partially eaten food, here and there cigarettes stubbed out on them. He turned back to Annie with two opened bottles—red, white, one in each hand. He poured, first for her, then for himself. When he'd set the bottles back down, they raised their glasses vaguely toward each other and each had a sip.

Graham was looming above Annie—though what she felt was that he loomed 'around' her, that she had somehow entered a space he owned. Heat radiated from him.

His face had become serious as he bent to her. He said, "What are you doing with Jeff?" His voice, she noted, was deep, resonant.

"Why do you ask?"

"I don't know. It seems an odd pairing, somehow." He was speaking very near Annie's ear, and she could feel his winey breath warm on her cheek, the rumble of his voice in her spine.

She pulled her head back to see him. "We're hardly paired," she said, looking into his eyes.

His face changed. "Ah! Good news." He smiled down at her, and they relaxed into the noise. Annie wanted him to touch her, she realized. She was waiting for it, her body was waiting.

Then, leaning forward again, he asked, "May I walk you home?"

"Now?" Annie pulled back again, laughing. She raised an open hand to indicate the people pressed in against them. The party was at full tilt, louder, bigger, more lubricated than it had been all evening.

He looked around, as if only now taking in all the people. "Oh!" he said. "Yeah. Later, I suppose, would be better."

"But see, the thing is, I'm leaving with the one what brought me." Though she was feeling some regret about that.

They looked at each other. It struck Annie that they were commiserating. Graham was nodding, over and over, as if taking in terrible news. "Well, I like to hear that," he said at last. "It speaks well of you, I suppose. But also..."—he made a rueful face—"also I don't like to hear it."

When she left a while later, with Jeff, Annie turned at the door to look for Graham. She found him—he was so tall, so prepossessing, that he was easy to spot. She waved, and he seemed to take a step in her direction, but then someone in the group standing with him must have said something to him, and he turned back, away from her.

She lay awake that night. She kept thinking about Graham—his apparent joyfulness, his ease, the feeling of his rumbling voice in her ear. Even his size. How tall was he? she wondered. Six-three? Six-four? More than a foot taller than she was, certainly. Ridiculous, really.

And he was so big. She'd never been attracted to a fat man before.

But no, she thought. He wasn't really fat. He was barrel-chested, large, yes. But somehow the way he carried himself—and of course, also his quick appreciation of her—had canceled out that notion for her. She remembered mostly wanting to touch him, wanting him to touch her. She'd been aware again, in the moments they stood so close to each other, of the wetness between her legs.

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