Expo Behind The Mask


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The bathroom was expansive, nearly the size of some of his friend’s bedrooms according to their testaments. White tile covered walls and floors, the design reminiscent of a bathhouse though Nat knew little of architecture. It was actually smaller than the bathroom in their old penthouse, though he didn’t find it any less comfortable. It was discomfort, however, that colored his expression as he gingerly wrapped the bandage around his torso.

He looked horrible, with dark circles under his eyes from the sleepless nights, yellowed bruises just beginning to fade along his arms and stomach from where he had blocked gunfire. The newer and brighter purple that splayed across his ribs beneath the bandage flared angrily with every movement, and Nat hissed through his teeth as he tried to cover it. It was getting harder to hide the injuries, though his armor and mask had limited them in the beginning. He had thought that he would make fewer mistakes as he progressed, but the months of erratic sleep and constant effort that had seemed to give him an edge seemed now to be causing those edges to fray.

Nat slipped a plain grey t-shirt over his head, movements slow. He had gained a lot of muscle, at least, from the abuse he had been putting himself through, and as painful as a bat to the ribs might have been a bruise was the least of what he could have walked away with. It was easy enough to disguise pain, and even exhaustion, from his friends at school. His grandfather, on the other hand…

”Grandson, are you awake?”

Nat knew his grandfather wasn’t waiting for a response, and didn’t offer one as he tugged a sweater on with a bit less hesitation than he had given the grey shirt. It was a routine they performed every morning, for as long as Nat could remember. When everything had changed their daily patterns had become the only thing that Nat found to rely on. His grandfather was as steady as stone in all things, and he couldn’t imagine his life without the old man’s unerring consistency.

”Good morning, Grandfather.” Sometimes Nat resented having to speak Japanese when he was home. There were too few people in his life who understood it, and even his father spoke English flawlessly. It was an adherence to the past that his grandfather insisted on, however, despite also having a firm grasp of the local tongue.

”Another late night, Grandson?” His grandfather settled into the chair at the head of the breakfast table, wrinkled face too ravaged by time to accurately read. Nat wasn’t sure how much his grandfather suspected, but his suspicion was more than he needed in any amount. Nat smiled as nonchalantly as he could manage as he took his own seat.

”Yes, these courses might give me an edge when I get to college, but taking nights courses after school is starting to get rather hectic.” It had been an easy lie that had snowballed, and at this point Nat really had applied for a few random college courses, credits he could obtain online though that part wasn’t known to his grandfather. Eventually it would come out that he had also gained himself a junior reporter position at the City Paper, and while that would provide him with more than enough variation in excuses he worried over the workload he had amassed.

”Be careful that you do not push too hard, Nathaniel-kun.” Sometimes it was like his grandfather could read his mind.

Nat’s phone chimed; thankfully not the one he kept buried and silenced in his bag. Pulling his personal cell free of his pocket Nat couldn’t suppress the smile that blossomed from the sender’s name. “Cam,” as it indicated, had sent him an early birthday message, judging from the preview, and though they hadn’t seen each other in years the sight of her name made his heart skip a beat. They had been best friends in middle school, back before he left the private school his father had once insisted he go to.

Back then it had been them against the world, and though he had been bullied just as constantly after meeting her as he had before there was something about having her there that made the pain of those cruelties seem paler. She had been there that night, had seen him at his most pathetic, and he had barely spoken with her since. They exchanged monthly pleasantries through text at first, but as their lives separated they had fallen to random messages when the thought crossed their minds.

When her second message came through he tapped it open, smile growing wider at the gif she had sent and wider still as the message. We should celebrate together this year.

Meet at our favorite spot next week?”

Nat couldn’t stop himself from the immediate response, and absorbed as he was in the moment he didn’t notice his grandfather’s keen eyes on him, or the familiar, mischievous grin before he spoke.

”Only a woman makes a man smile like that.” Nat’s grandfather took a bite of the eggs in front of him, making a show of studying them as his grandson looked up from his smartphone incredulously.

”It’s just Cam, Grandfather, relax.” Nat shrugged unconvincingly as his eyes were torn back to the screen and Cam’s reply. Wednesday at 6.

Nat jumped from his chair, barely containing his urge to run into town immediately and spend the next six days waiting for his oldest friend to arrive. Though his grandfather was still studying his fork intently Nat could hear the dry chuckle from beneath his beard. It didn’t matter, nothing mattered except for this chance, this beautiful and unexpected gift he had been given. If things went well, if she forgave him for leaving, maybe they could start actually hanging out again. Maybe he could introduce her to his new friends and bring her into the life he had built. She had been a big part of why he chosen to go to a public school, and he could only imagine his life being better for her presence.

Looking forward to it.
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