Revitalized slightly, submitted to Masters Review contest on May 30, 2020
She caught him staring at her from the window ledge he was sitting on across the room.
They were in a large community hall. Several tables and chairs had been moved to accommodate a make-shift cafeteria. This is where they’re eating now, their unique little group, sequestered and locked down in a hastily-formed, impromptu community.
Absentmindedly, she tried to ignore him. She kept wiping the counter and rinsing the cloth in the sink, facing away from him.
“I used to be just like you,” he said abruptly into the silence. A man of few words, she never knew if she expected him to speak at all.
She turned and looked at him.
She decided against framing it like a question. She didn’t really want to engage in a conversation with him. Or invite the inevitable exchange she knew would happen, eventually. She turned her attention back to the sink, and to the cloth in her hand.
The sparks between them were undeniable. It repulsed her to desire him this way.
Still, she had taken the bait. She knew he would insist anyway, in that stoic, luring way of his.
He spoke again.
“Shy,” he said. “Introverted.”
She could feel him watching her, with those green eyes narrowed and scowling. It put her on edge, the way he stared. The way he presumed things about her.
She pondered her response while fidgeting with her cloth.
“Is that so,” she finally said. Again, she wasn’t asking a question. It felt like a trap, the way he antagonized her from that ledge.
She hung the cloth over the faucet and turned to face him. He was silent, brooding. And still staring at her.
“How so?” she asked him against her better judgement.
Damn him, she chided herself. He really does bring out the worst in her. The last thing she wanted was to be inquisitive.
Conflicted, she leaned against the counter and folded her arms over her chest.
Her question hung between them, stifling and thick.
He watched her without moving.
It pained her that every move she made, every glance she might initiate away from his eyes, he would scrutinize.
She did not want to be analyzed and judged on implied intent. He would draw the wrong conclusion anyway. Men usually do. They think they know women, but the reality is, they know nothing. Especially not about her.
She would keep her eyes on his. There is no way she was going to allow him the satisfaction of noticing her curiosity if she were to steal a look away from his face. She didn’t want to be caught admiring the clearly defined definition of his arms…
Startled, she tore herself out of her reveries.
She must deny her wanton need to appraise his body.
He doesn’t deserve me, she reminded herself, as if that was enough of a deterrent.
Their silence persisted. So did her internal struggle.
Maybe she did want an answer from him after all, she contemplated after a while. Just to get it out in the open. Or maybe it was about forcing him into giving her a response he wasn’t ready to give. One that she could dissect, and deconstruct.
It felt like she could turn the tables here, and get the upper hand.
Maintaining eye contact, she narrowed her own eyes at him.
Two can play this game, she told herself smugly.
But he remained silent.
She glared at him from her spot by the sink, hoping to provoke him into an argument. She was in exactly the right mood for an altercation with this pretentious man who dared to declare to her face that he knew her.
He knows nothing, she thought. How dare he imply he knows me?
They continued to endure their disconcerting silence.
After a while, he spoke again.
“Sometimes, sex is just sex.”
He stated this as a fact, as if to validate his position. As if his view, his unsolicited opinion, is the only one that mattered.
His impassive arrogance infuriated her even more. But she caught herself before unraveling, before letting herself get caught up in her anger.
“You don’t know anything about me,” she informed him while loosening her arms and letting them hang at her side. She suddenly found herself resigned that this conversation was going to continue whether she allowed it to happen, or not. He would simply track her down later and pester her again if they didn’t reach some sort of resolution.
She softened her look and glanced at him. His hair was peppered with less grey strands than her own, and his face sported a trendy scruffiness prevalent in men who don’t shave every day. He was the same age as she was, but the way he leaned against the ledge by the windows made him look more like a rebellious teenager than an adult in mid-life. He was full of tacit confidence which she knew was a front. A typical, ego-driven, male front.
Her exasperation resurfaced. She could feel it consume her and she quickly adjusted her stance to reassure him she was still willing to continue their talk.
“I understand what you’re saying,” she admitted. “But I’m not there.”
She paused for a moment before continuing.
“Not with you,” she added defiantly, as both an afterthought and a final declaration.
She was done. There was nothing left to say, as far as she was concerned.
Still, she anticipated a response. She wondered if his ego would accept her statement, or if it would cloud him into denial and make the whole situation worse. Men with bruised egos was not what she wanted to deal with these days, what with everything else going on.
She watched his face for a reaction. Although his expression didn’t change, there was something she noticed in his eyes. Something subtle, but she was sure it was there. A glint, or some sort of twitch.
I hope he doesn’t get defensive and rile me up, she thought and braced herself, just in case.
The silence was deafening. But she would be damned to be the one who conceded first, to brake their visual connection. Like a predator staring at his prey, they kept their eyes locked on each other. She into his green eyes which pierced her like daggers, and he into her dark, coffee-coloured eyes full of mystery and challenge.
Neither of them blinked. Both of them were keenly aware of the heightened tension hovering between them. Sexual tension.
She could feel herself clenching her jaw. Her throat felt dry and she yearned for a some water to quench her thirst. Something to distract her away from his arrogant, overzealous demeanor.
But she prevailed in her silence and domination.
It was him who finally broke the spell.
“Why not?” he said, never taking his eyes off her. “Why not with me?”
She realized there was no other way to end it than to give him something that he could grasp. A simple no would just entice him to try harder, and invite the thrill of the chase. A chase she was not up to dealing with today. Or any day.
She chose her words carefully. Then, with a final look directly into those intense, seductive eyes of his, she told him exactly why.
“Because. It can’t be you who wakes me up.”
Copyright © by Claudette Labriola