Challenge Accepted

Shari found herself standing on the veranda, the sun having set without her realizing, and the cold cigarette butt between her fingers burnt down to the filter. The party in the ballroom behind her wound down some time ago and only the stragglers who dreaded returning to the dullness of their home lives remained, desperate to make any sort of connection with another human being. She, of course, was not one of those people. She had simply gotten lost in her thoughts, but couldn’t recall, for the life of her, what she had been thinking about for all those hours.

“Certainly is a nice night,” a man said, stepping onto the veranda. His voice was kind and jovial on the surface but the undertow of his desire was evident.

“You’re wasting your time, my friend,” Shari said without turning around, because she had no interest in his appearance. “I don’t keep up with current jargon or buzzwords, so forgive me if this phrase is outdated, but you should consider me to be self-partnered.”

“I see,” the man said, halting in his approach. “My name’s Drew, by the way. And you are…?”

“Single as a dollar and not looking for change,” Shari flicked the cigarette butt onto the street below, fished a fresh one from the open pack in her handbag, struck a match on the stone railing and steadied her hand to light it. The man was too close for her comfort and his own good.

“Well, I didn’t mean to bother you,” Drew said. “You just seemed like a perfectly nice person, in need of a little company, to me.”

“That’s because you’re too young to know what warning signs to look out for,” Shari smiled wanly and let the smoke stream out in lazy snakes.

“Now you’re just being dramatic.”

“Am I? What do you see when you look at me? I mean, really see.”

“That’s easy, and this may sound cheesy, but you’re a beautiful woman, I mean, beauty beyond compare, who’s probably been alone so long that she’s become lost in her loneliness, someone, I think, who is in desperate need of the right person to pull her from the depths of her despair.”

“And you think you’re that person?”

“I could be.”

“But what if you’re wrong? What if what I actually am is a thing you should not ever invite into your life?”

“I’ll take my chances.”

“I would so destroy you.”

“Challenge accepted.”

Shari took a long last pull on her cigarette, flicked it off the veranda to join its partner, and turned to face the brazen young man. She let out a long, slow breath, and when the smoke cleared, she let this Drew see her for what she was.

Rooted to the spot, confidence beading on his flesh and evaporating like sweat, Drew stared into the pools of obsidian that were Shari’s eyes which were set beneath the veil of willows that was her hair, and those eyes announced very clearly that there were no sweets left to taste in her garden. But it wasn’t only her abyss-eyed stare that rocked him to his core, it was this woman’s entire demeanor which cast such a somber moral hue filled with vice and disease over the patch of paradise that was his soul.

Among her sisters, Shari was considered the black sheep, because she actually felt remorse when feeding, especially when she wasn’t hungry, but this fellow had been well and truly warned, and she had never been the type to back down from a challenge.