My skin prickles suddenly; some sixth sense makes me turn - I look around but can see no-one. My skin continues to tingle and when I turn my head again, caught in the pool of light under the lamp post, is a man. His hair is white blond, even blonder in the glowing light and is the only part of him, save his luminous eyes, visible above the mask that covers his lower face, that is not clothed in darkness. Either he has moved incredibly fast or, more likely, was camouflaged by the shadows when last I looked. My pulse speeds up a little, but I continue to walk. I feel his eyes burning into me and I halt briefly, locking my eyes with his. For a moment, my nerve fails me and I contemplate turning on my heel and running but I steady myself. Did I not invite the Fates in? Did I not consciously or otherwise, offer myself up to the unknown? If this is what they hold in store for me then so be it, tonight I will drift on currents, carried on the air like the thistledown that floats through my beloved city. His gaze flicks over me, assessingly, holding a hint of a challenge. I walk on slowly, conscious of my movements, when I reach a wall opposite the lamp post I lean back against it and wait. His body is tense, turned away from me but his eyes continue to assess, to analyse me.
"Not often you see a girl wearing a dress like that around here." His voice startles me, and I feel my breath catch in my throat.
"Who says I'm lookin'?" Tiny hollows appear in his cheeks, just visible over the top of his mask. He's smiling, his mouth hidden underneath the cloth, I'm certain of it.
I try for outrage, for iciness, "You shouldn't necessarily be looking. But you comment on someones dress yet you expect no response...?"
He whistles softly and above the mask his eyes widen with surprise, "Well, look at you. All high and mighty in your dress, I didn't think you would stop to address a 'lowlife'..." Again the hollows appear - surely under that mask there can't be dimples?
"A 'lowlife'? You seem ready to make assumptions about the thoughts of others!" I try to keep my voice steady. How dare he assume that I would judge others instantly.
He raises an eyebrow mockingly, "And why would you think that?"
"You assume that I'm 'all high and mighty' - I would say that was an assumption, by my definition anyway." Without realising I have moved away from the shelter of the wall and taken a few steps towards him.
"What can I say? You seem... well-kept..." With a fluid movement he moves away from the lamp post into the shadows, I wonder if he will appear beside me but then I see him, leaning against the wall. I swallow hard. I am not disappointed. This is madness, what am I doing here?
"Is that your idea of a compliment?"
"Rouged red lips, finely dressed, jewellery... It is not often such comes around here."
Deep inside me I feel something flicker. I look at the stranger, leaning casually up against the wall, "Maybe sometimes it is fun to... slum it."
Again he looks me over, slower this time, completely unashamed, uncaring that he may be causing offence. "I cannot imagine why one such as yourself would choose to slum. Surely you are quite... worth the price."
I toss my hair back over my shoulder, "'Worth the price'? I cannot decide whether to be insulted or amused. You talk about assumptions, yet you assume that somewhere there is a man enabling me, financing me to look like this?"
"Believe me, my insults would not be directed at one such as yourself. I simply meant to say, the way you look...you look like your worth is high, I did not meant to imply that you can be bought...All I meant to do was... was to make your cheeks the ruby of your lips. Is that so wrong?" He rubs his hands over his face, the cloth slips slightly, and he quickly re-arranges it, pulling it a little higher, his eyes guarded.
Momentarily I feel victorious, I made him think, made him uncomfortable made him stumble oh so briefly over his words. I can feel myself smiling. "You have pretty words when your tongue ceases to be sharp."
"My tongue is always sharp... but not always deadly." His voice has deepened, gotten rougher somehow.
My stomach flips as I take in the loaded words, the meaning they are imbued with. I feel the heat sear through my body, my cheeks flush and I look away quickly, then realise my mistake, turning my head exposes the side of my face to the lamp light. Surely he will notice now...
I hear him take a quick breath, and then chuckle. "Ah, there we are..."