17 - Masks We Hide Behind

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The days after that afternoon spent in Peter's room, things became a little more complicated. Peter had come back to school, a little quiet but that wasn't too unusual coming from him. We all knew what he was going through, all tried our best to try and comfort him in our own way. I did that by doing what I needed when Colton had died. I acted like everything was alright, that his uncle hadn't died just over two weeks ago. It wasn't hard to pretend, I had been pretending around this time of year, every year. Too bad my friends saw through that mask now.

"I know what you're doing," Gwen pouted over at me one morning before school started. We were perched on an outdoor table in the courtyard. I had a pen pressed to my lips, trying to cram in some more studying for a calculus exam I had in an hour. I dragged my eyes up from my textbook, waiting for her to go on. "I find it sort of nice, in a messed up sort of way."

A frown worked on my forehead, "I know it's too early for you, you've not had your morning coffee but what are you even talking about Gwen?"

Gwen rolled her eyes, her elbows nesting on the cold wooden table. "You're pushing away your own feelings, trying to hide them by focusing on Peter's feelings. I know he's going through a hard time, we all are right now. But Flo, it's October."

I knew what date was coming up. I did not need to be reminded. I tapped the pen against my notebook, trying not to lash out at her. My emotions were in overdrive, making me a little on edge. "I know what month it is, Gwen. It comes every year, weirdly enough."

"Come on," Gwen sighed. "I know what usually happens with you and I'm trying to help."

I blew out some air from my cheeks, dropping the pen and leaning back in my seat. I stared up at the grey clouded sky, feeling the cool air sting my cheeks. Around this time of year I grew closed off, I stacked up those walls that I had been building high ever since that night. Things got worse in October; my nightmares, the hole in my chest, the darkness that dusted my vision, making the world a little more lonely, a little more violent. "I know you think I'm deflecting," I started. "That with Peter I'm able to shove the focus to him. That I'm not dealing with it, but that's not it."

Gwen wasn't buying my little speech. "And what do you think you're doing, Flo? Because last time I checked, you weren't even friends with Pete and now all of a sudden, you're a little too eager to spend time with him."

I shook my head. "Gwen, that's not even what's going on--"

"Spending time with him, with what he's going through is deflecting your own problems, Florence. You can try and hide it, say you're helping him because he needs you. But by right now, you're using his grief to mask your own grief. I don't think that's fair on him."

Gwen stared across at me with those dark eyes, daring me to challenge her. To call her out, to defend my actions. I wanted to but no words formed on my lips. Because no matter how much I tried to wrap it around in my head, I was using Peter for my own personal gain. He was in a dark place right now and so was I this time of the year. We had that common right now. With him I could burry my fears, my nightmares and the hole in my chest. With Peter Parker, I could pretended I wasn't drowning. "I'm helping him," I pointed out. "You two pushed me into helping, remember?" I added in, dragging both Gwen and Mary Jane into my excuse. It wasn't a total excuse or even a lie that I was helping Peter. We had both suffered through something unimaginable and together we could help each other.

Before Gwen could reply Mary Jane bounced over, Harry right behind her. Peter was no where to be found, which was strange since we both had that exam this morning. "Hey you two, studying hard?"

"Nope," Gwen grinned, tapping her temple with a finger. "I studied all night. I'm going to ace it."

Harry slung his arm around Mary Jane's shoulders, smirking down at us both. "That's great news, Gwen. What about you, Flo? Or were you up too late with Pete last night?"

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