Auggie Anderson bolted upright at the sound of knocking on his door, the noise jerking him out of his half-sleep. Confused, he pressed the button on his watch. "Ten-forty-two-pm," it said robotically. Who on earth was coming over at almost eleven? He set the book that had fallen into his lap on the coffee table and made his way carefully through the apartment.
The person knocked again just before he reached the door, and he called out, "Who is it?"
"It's me," was the response. Auggie tilted his head in surprise and quickly opened the door. The draft of air that entered brought the scent of grapefruit to his nose.
"Annie?" he asked curiously. "I didn't know you were coming over."
"Sorry," she said and he heard a bit of trepidation seep into her voice. "I should have called first. Did I wake you up?"
"No," he lied quickly.
"Liar," she said and laughed quietly.
"Okay so I might have dozed off on the couch when I was reading," he relented with a shrug. "Which means you just saved me from waking up with a terrible crick in my neck in the morning. I think that merits a drink." He stepped back and heard the distinctive click of her kitten heels walk past him. He closed and locked the door again, and then traced the familiar path to his refrigerator. With a bottle of Guinness in each hand, he cautiously followed the scent of Annie to where she was already sitting down on the couch he'd just vacated minutes ago.
As he handed one bottle to her, he asked, "So the date didn't go well?"
"How'd you know I was on a date?" she asked and he could hear the surprise in her voice.
"The heels and the sound of your dress," he answered. "And your hair is pulled up – I can't smell your shampoo when you turn your head like I usually can – and you only do that when you're going out. And it sounds like you might be wearing jewelry, I can hear your necklace moving."
"It's kind of scary how you do that," Annie informed him but he could tell she was smiling and it made him grin too. He heard her take the cap off the bottle and take a deep swallow before answering his original question. "It was this guy that my sister invited to dinner last Thursday. The plastic surgeon."
Auggie let out a low whistle. "Hmm, deep pockets," he commented.
Annie snorted. "Yeah, and shallow everywhere else," she replied, making him smirk into his drink. "He seemed pretty decent last week, so we went out again tonight. And after dinner he told me he'd give me a really great discount if I wanted to have my nose fixed." Auggie's eyes widened and he choked on the mouthful of beer.
"How charming," he said, prompting Annie to make another derisive noise. "Was dinner at least good?"
"Delicious," she agreed and laughed that sweet little laugh that always made him smile.
"Well then, to lousy men with good taste in restaurants," he said, holding up his bottle in a mock toast. Annie laughed again and tapped her bottle against his. After he'd taken another swallow, he asked, "So I'm going to assume you're hiding out here because you don't want to deal with your sister then? Or are you looking for someone else to shack up with since your other plans fell through?"
He could tell she rolled her eyes at him by the hint of exasperation in her laugh. "The first one," she said. "I really am not in the mood to deal with the Spanish Inquisition right now."
They lapsed into a friendly quiet as they both nursed their drinks, their minds in different places. Then suddenly Annie said, "You don't think I have a weird nose, do you?"
Auggie bit back a laugh. "It looks fine to me," he said and it seemed like Annie had realized her mistake a split second after saying it because she laughed. Even though she didn't say anything more, he could tell she was still thinking about it. There was a certain vibe of tension coming off her, and after a second his ears picked up on her anxious habit of tapping her fingers, drumming out a hectic rhythm against the side of her bottle. He knew what was going on. It had never ceased to amaze him how she could still be so self-conscious.
"Annie," he said and he felt the weight of her gaze when it landed on his face. "You're beautiful."
"How would you know?" The words came out weary and bitter, and, judging by the startled gasp that followed, entirely without her meaning to. "Oh, God, I'm so sorry, Auggie, I didn't mean it like that. I just –"
His laugh cut across her rambled apologies and he held up a hand to stop her. "Relax, I'm fine," he said and she finally fell silent again. "I just know. I have my ways."
Annie let out a laugh that sounded slightly forced. "Oh right, by how other men talk to me, right?" she said and he assumed she was remembering the time they'd talked about it at the Tavern.
"No," he answered plainly and he heard her make a small noise of interest. "By the way that you talk to me." The strength of her stare doubled and he knew that he had her complete attention now. "I've met a lot of new people over the years, and absolutely none of them have ever treated me the way you do. There's no pity or hesitancy or awkwardness. You make me feel like I'm just like everyone else. There are people I've known for years that can't even do that. Not even my family. Okay, especially not my family."
He heard her faint laugh at the comment, and he smiled before finishing. "So I don't care what anyone else says. As far as I'm concerned, you are a beautiful woman, Annie Walker." He paused and then added, with a cheeky grin, "Even if you do have a crooked nose."
And she laughed, the most genuine, wonderful laugh she'd laughed all night. Before he was really aware of what was happening, she had wrapped her arms around his neck and pulled him into a playfully awkward sideways hug. "Thanks, Auggie," she said when she finally let him go and settled back into the couch again. "You are the best at making me feel better, you know that, right?"
"I'm the best at a lot of things, darling," he quipped and she laughed again. "I've also been told I'm the best lover this side of the Atlantic, if you happen to be interested." She teasingly shoved him in the chest and they dissolved into laughter.
They spent the rest of the evening listening their way through his jazz collection and verbally abusing her date.