23 - Keeping Secrets

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My relationship with Peter has always been rather complicated but recently it had gotten somewhat worse. After that afternoon in the hallway with Flash, something changed, yet again. I thought things with Peter had gotten beyond the point of avoiding each other but ever since that day, Peter had been rather absent in everything. Even Harry had to admit something was different about him. Peter was distracted and it was something that had us all a little worried. The days blurred by, November well and truly here. That terrible weight in my chest was lifting like it usually did after Halloween, as life got back on track. But this year was different because there was a tiny part of me that was finally accepting what had happened and how I couldn't keep that promise to Colton, not if I ever wanted to be really happy. 

It was after school and I was seated on one of the outdoor tables in the courtyard not far from the back football field, my feet dangling over the edge and a thick History textbook sitting in my lap. My hair was yanked off my face in a high ponytail, the wind nipping at my exposed neck. I had been waiting for Peter. I knew his last class of the day was Algebra and he walked home down past the fields, some sort of short cut. It wasn't my usual type of habit, watching and waiting for him to make an appearance before pouncing. I wasn't sure what I was going to say to him or if I was actually going to ask what was going on. I was not completely sure I even had the right to ask why he was acting so strange. After everything that had happened in the past few weeks, everything was murky between us, the lines blurred. 

As my teeth dragged across my bottom lip, my pencil tapping against my knee I saw him. He was making his way down the path that wrapped behind the back field, his legs moving quickly and his head was bent downwards. I sat for a short moment, my head tilting to the side as I watched him. I had never thought Peter Parker was all that interesting but as the lines of our relationship blurred, so did my thoughts and feelings. I couldn't see his face from my spot on the table but by the way his shoulders hung forward, the way his backpack was almost dragging behind him, it almost looked like he was in pain. 

I sprung to my feet, my textbook snapping shut. I hurriedly shoved away my book and threaded my pencil behind my ear and started chasing after him. "Peter, hey!"

He slowed down, shooting a quick look over his shoulder at me. For a moment something flashed through those familiar eyes and I almost stopped following him, doubt seeping into my heart. When I finally caught up, I offered him a quick shy smile.

"Florence, what's wrong?" Peter asked quickly, his eyes jerking away from my own. I shuffled on my feet, my shoulders shrugging hopelessly. I hadn't really spoken to Peter in what seemed like days, maybe even a week. He had bailed on our study sessions and brushed off any group activities with the rest of us, muttering something about needing to be home or something about his Aunt May. 

I shook my head numbly. "Uh, nothing. I just wanted to see how you were. You've been...rather distant and I couldn't help but wonder if something was wrong." The words were soft coming from my tongue and I was actually a little nervous by what he would say to me. 

Peter let his weight shift to his other leg, a little grimace flooding his face. My eyes automatically went downwards to stare at his side where he was holding his waist uncomfortably. "Are you hurt?" I gushed out, stepping forward an inch without even thinking.

He jumped backwards, faster than I thought humanly possible. My hands dropped to my sides too quickly, my heart falling towards the ground. "It's nothing." He stated.

A sharp laugh escaped my lips, something rather unpleasant as I crossed my arms over my chest. "I know you're not fighting with Flash and I know what bruises look like, Peter. You've been fighting with someone and--"

"Why do you care?" Peter asked, his voice laced with something I couldn't place. 

I shrugged. "Because--"

"Because we're friends?" He butted in again, rather out of character. I knew what was coming and I wasn't having any of his odd out bursts of mismatched anger. He was going to try and throw my own words in my face and despite knowing any better, I would not let him. 

I stepped in closer, my chest heaving. "I care because I can, Parker. I don't know when or even really why I care about you...but I do, so you're stuck with me."

Peter didn't move, barely even breathed. His face had softened and I knew my words had struck deeper than intended. "I'm sorry." He muttered out politely, a little more like the Peter Parker I knew. 

"It's fine," I replied and eyed the way he twisted his body with pain and I knew a painted picture of purple and yellow bruises covered his side. "I don't know why you're acting so strange suddenly but we're all a little worried."

He gave me a tiny smile, his lips pulling upwards in that dorky half grin. "You don't need to worry." He sounded so confident, so reassuring that I actually wanted to believe him. But there was still a part of me that was worried about the boy who was so broken but had managed to help fix me. 

I wanted to shake my head, to reach forward and see those bruises which he was trying so hard to actually hide. I wanted to tell him, to demand why he was acting so strange and why he was covered in bruises. The little question of who he was fighting with kept running through my mind and I knew it was a question that would haunt my dreams later tonight. But I didn't say any of that, I just numbly nodded, holding my tongue and letting him keep this secret, even if every part of me wanted to know what was really going on. 

"You know, Peter..." I started quietly. "You can tell me anything, I don't mind. I know things between us are complicated but I'll be here for you. Just like you were with me with the whole Colton thing."

Peter nodded, a smile creeping onto his lips. I really liked how his lips moved, creating such a lightness within him, something that actually made me want to smile too. "Thank you, Florence." It was an honest smile, one that nobody could ever take away and I had been the very reason for that smile. He stepped forward, his hand lightly pulling the pencil out behind me ear and offering me a quick grin. "We should study, huh?"

I felt my chest heaving again with him being so close. I was already nodding, words escaping my lips. It was a strange feeling having someone who could take your breath away with four little words, as his fingers lightly grazed your cheek.  "I'll walk you home." He suggested.

I smiled. "We can study at my place, my parents will still be at work." 

Peter stepped away, letting me fall into his step. "Alright, partner." 

We headed up the path, the shade of the trees blocking out the soft afternoon light. We didn't talk much, which was actually nice. It was just the two of us and the whole city before us. 


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