Also, congrats to Garish Sun, who won my critique contest!
I backed up, prepared to throw myself at the door again, but wound up launching myself into Graham’s arms. There was a soft oomph as we collided, then a husky laugh as he wrapped his arms around me.
“Well, hello to you, too,” he said, his breath tickling my cheek.
For a moment, I let myself enjoy Graham’s warmth. His body heat seeped into me, counteracting the cold cement I’d been lying on all day. My nose was buried in the collar of his shirt; he smelled like the ocean and pine trees. Though he was a complete beanpole, he was as sturdy and unfailing as ever, holding me up as the tension in my body slowly melted away. His hands rubbed circles up and down my back, and a part of me wished I could stand there forever. It was hard not to feel safe when Graham was around.
Eventually the tears stopped, and the nausea in my stomach settled. Sensing I had calmed down, he held me at arm’s length and studied me. I watched his blue eyes drag over my body, checking to make sure I was all right. My hand instinctively reached up to brush an unruly blonde curl out of his eyes, something I’d caught myself doing a lot recently. I constantly berated myself for it, since I didn’t want to grow too attached to him. Still, Graham Madigan wasn’t someone you could just walk away from or ignore. While I’d been trying to keep my distance, he was busy trying to get to know me. It would’ve been easier to tell him to leave me alone, but a part of me didn’t want to.
I smiled despite myself.
“Better?” he asked, pulling me toward the stairs.
I nodded. Mister and Misses Madigan were huddled near the radiator, and I gave them a feeble wave from where we sat. Frank saluted me with a grin.
“All right there, Neva? Not dead yet, are we?”
I shook my head while Caroline smacked her husband, promising to have dinner on the table just as soon as we got out of the damn basement.
“We’re having potatoes,” she said, folding her arms across her prominent chest. “It’s all we’ve got.”
Which was only partially true. Mostly, the woman just didn’t know how to cook. Still, I’d rather eat potatoes for a week straight than starve to death.
Frank let out an exaggerated grown, which earned him another slap on the wrist from his wife. Beside me, Graham was trying not to laugh and failing miserably. Caroline’s face twitched, as if she wanted to smile, but it never quite broke through. It still amazed me that, despite the war raging outside, the family sequestered in the basement of #509 was still smiling.