‘Celia,’ she said, taking my arm, ‘Come with me darling, there is someone you just must meet.’
The party was in full swing. Men in dinner suits, ladies all glam; this was an expensive gathering. My silver-blue dress clung to my lines and I felt self-assured as we approached a ring of people. Curiously, as we approached, one and then another looked over to Penny and I. There appeared to be an electric atmosphere here. A shared something, to which I was not party.
I should have guessed that I walked into a trap. I knew all but one of them in some measure. Couples mostly, they sipped at their claret, savoring each mouthful as if reveling in something secret.
Opposite me was a person I had not met before, a handsome, tanned man with blackest hair and warm, brown, Egyptian eyes. We were not introduced. He watched me attentively for a few seconds and I felt a primal tickle. I gave him a nod of acknowledgment, my eyes promising that we might meet in time.
‘I was telling the group that you have been studying body language,’ Penny smiled. ‘I said that you could probably tell no end of things about us even if we all stayed silent. But as always there are the skeptics.’
‘Well,’ I said, ‘it’s an inexact science, but in fair measure we are all quite easily read.’ I turned away from the man, warming to the topic.
‘Show us!’ prompted Pen, her eyes glittering with suppressed excitement, ‘What can you tell about—' her eyes scanned the group, '—Freddie, for instance.’
I hadn’t meant to get caught in this, but the challenge was there, and I leapt to it. I knew little of Fred, which probably helped me to see him as he really was; not as he pretended to be. He almost startled when I looked at him, like a rabbit caught in a car’s headlights. Freddie pulled his elbows in a little, held his glass closer to his mouth, brought his knees together. He leant slightly toward the woman on his right.
‘Freddie doesn’t like the glare of the limelight tonight,’ I said, ‘most defensive.’ I nearly laughed. ‘He is going into a huddle with the woman he fancies.’
That tore it. There was a choking cough from the woman on his left and she turned to Freddie whose eyes were widening in fear.
I thought for a moment the party might break up in disarray, for everyone was rapidly becoming aware of their stances, rearranging their dress and generally shifting position.
Penny laughed, a high giggle and then she sipped at her drink, looking mischievously over the top of the glass, breaking the moment. Taking her lead, the others settled again. I couldn’t help noticing that Penny definitely still held a look as though she knew a secret that was yet to come out. Come to think of it, many of the others were looking furtively at each other, chins a little higher than usual. They seemed to think they held the upper hand.
Again, I felt the eyes of the Egyptian. He swirled his wine, watching things develop, his eyes going to my neck, where tiny goose bumps rose, though it was not a cool evening. With vague feelings of being observed by the others, I hoped he might visit my side of the circle soon.
Oddly, the circle fell to silence in those seconds. They were waiting expectantly for something.
Penny dropped the bombshell. ‘It seems Mr Shariffe here has also studied the art of reading body language.’ She gestured to my admirer. Now it was my eyes that widened. Mr Shariffe, handsome or no, was watching me with an educated eye!
I was suddenly all too aware of the goosebumps on my neck giving me away, and felt that my dress was altogether too revealing. It was like those dreams where one arrives at school with no clothes on. In my unexpected pique of anxiety, I realized I was pulling gently on my earlobe, exposing my wrist to Mr Shariffe—a dead give away that I found him attractive. My eyes flicked up to his. His eyes were following the line of my forearm appreciatively.
Rattled, forgetting the rest of the group for a moment, I looked down… ever so fleetingly. A small sound from other members of the group hinted that they were now scrutinizing me, and neither they nor Mr Shariffe had missed the look. I felt a high pink rise in my cheeks and my lips pouted. I quickly stopped them doing so and, seeking to avoid his gaze, looked down once more, this time at his shoes. The well-clad foot was pointing right at me!
So, the attraction was mutual. He smiled knowingly. He’s onto me, I thought. And everybody watching.
Seeking to regain my composure, I crossed my arms, only realizing at the last moment that I had crossed them lightly, fingers pointing at my elbows – a pose, and a provocative one – not a closed cross at all. I was undone and had no idea what to do next.
He looked down at my feet and one of his eyebrows went up, almost imperceptibly. With a jolt I realized that my feet were mirroring his! One foot pointed right between his legs. Unnerved, I deliberately moved my foot back and to the side, but in the effort, I forgot what the rest of me was doing. I found that my hand had returned to my head. I was curling my hair around my index finger like a schoolgirl. My index finger!
Things went a little crazy. Desperate to control my hands, I grabbed a second glass from a passing waiter’s tray to ensure both hands were busy. But I realized that this must look silly, so I quaffed the first in a gulp and, completely without grace, coughed as it caught in my throat. The red liquid spilled out and drop onto my dress.
His eyes said ‘Hmm,’ as he produced a white handkerchief, and confidently closed the gap between us. then dabbed away the wine from my breast before it could soak in.
Regardless of my embarrassment, I caught his scent. It is amazing that at this moment I felt so alive, so sensitive to the contact. His cologne hung in a gentle veil about my head. His touch, careful not to cross the bounds of propriety, yet resting urgently, took me on a pleasure trip.
That was the fatal moment. I slumped a little; I sighed.
He responded by moving in closer still, the linen in his hand gaining a quieter motion.
‘Bravo!’ said a voice. It was Freddie’s. Spontaneous applause broke out around the circle. They had been watching our every move. Penny laughed kindly, ‘Celia, dear. Please forgive us, but the chase was too inviting to refuse. You see Mr Shariffe here proposed that persons trained in the art are more susceptible to its power than the rest of us. He seems to have proved his point—and without saying a word.’
I looked back at Mr Shariffe, seeking an enemy. Yet his eyes did not mock. He turned to the group. ‘You have had your fun,’ he said good naturedly, admonishing them, his low voice speaking for the first time since I had arrived, ‘In truth I sought only an introduction. It seems I have gained more.’ He turned with a smile that invited me to join him, and the watchers fell to stunned silence as I followed him, out of the circle, past the other guests, and into the night.