Masks

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"Must. Find. Him."

The sign on the stodgy brick building behind Sugarman's head said Ed's Mask Store. Leo shaded each small circle surrounding the fat black letters like lights on a movie marquee. Sugarman, shoulders hunched, fists jammed into his pockets, strode past deep in thought, a few stray dots of sugar in his wake.

Leo sat back and examined the first panel in Sugarman vs the Avocado of Doom. Satisfied, he drew a second square next to the first and carefully began sketching an avocado in a clown mask. Generally, Leo liked Thursday nights; they were mellow, a nice break in the rush of the week. His dad had choir practice on Thursday nights and his mom usually settled down to work on some project or other. Tonight she was racing to finish a birthday present for the renter's little girl – a fluffy knitted hat in purple with matching mittens. Something about a party tomorrow afternoon. Jack always seemed to have homework on Thursday nights and disappeared into his room as soon as supper was through.

Leo was sure Jack wasn't working on homework. Jack's moneymaking schemes were notorious and his most recent venture, a homemade root beer business at Christmas time, had come to a particularly spectacular end. The root beer had been fantastic and he'd sold a lot; unfortunately, after several weeks of natural carbonization, the bottles had begun to explode when returned to room temperature and anyone who had wrapped them as a gift under the Christmas tree, awakened Christmas morning to a sticky surprise. There was no doubt in Leo's mind that Jack was holed up in his room planning his next enterprise, but Leo didn't think it was any of his business so he left it alone. He gave the avocado feet with toes then erased the toes and drew sneakers instead.

"He won't recognize me in this."

"Pardon me sir, you dropped your banana."

"Ha! I tricked Sugarman!"

He drew another panel and outlined a closeup of Sugarman's face, blacking in the narrow mask across his eyes with special care. His own black mask, the one he'd found to go with his Sugarman costume, sat in front of him on the desk. He put it on and continued to draw.

Leo liked masks.When you put on a mask you became invisible.You were no longer responsible for being who other people thought you should be. An evil avocado, for example, could try being a happy, funny clown. A quiet boy who liked to draw could try being a superhero who saves the day.

He glanced with satisfaction across the room at his Sugarman costume draped over the chair by the window, waiting for Saturday's party. Jack would wear a tailcoat and fancy vest like their dad to the party. He was often out in front with their dad playing music at Guesthouse events. Their elegant suits set a formal tone, top hats added a wink of fun. Leo envied the top hats. But he understood. This year though, Leo, too, would be noticed; Sugarman was not one to disappear in a crowd.

"Hey! Wait a second – you're an avocado!"

"And you're going down Sugarman!"

"BIFF! POW! SPLAT!"

"This is the last straw, you villain – prepare for guacamole! GZZZT!"

Leo aimed a vigorous swarm of sugar dots at the treacherous avocado.

"Wait! TRUCE!"

"What?!"

Leo paused, surprised at this independent blurt from his pencil. A truce? Why would a supervillain call a truce? Crunchy lay on his back on Leo's bed, legs splayed, belly exposed, the loose skin around his mouth flopped back away from his teeth. Both he and Daisy had sacrificed their sweaters to the two shorn sheep and he was happily free of knitwear. His legs twitched in his sleep. Dogs didn't need masks, Leo mused, taking his off and pondering the avocado he'd just drawn. A dog could only ever be a dog, but a person (or an evil avocado) was complicated, he could change. Leo sketched big teardrops cascading from the avocado's eyes.

"Ma said to be a banker but No-o, Dad, he made me be a supervillain. NOW look at me! I don't wanna BE like this! Help me Sugarman!"

Leo floated a thought bubble above Sugarman's head.

"He can't be serious..."

"Ha-Ha-Ha! You're right Sugarman!"

The avocado sped out of the frame leaving small puffs of exhaust behind him on the page. Sugarman picked up the abandoned clown mask and held it in both hands.

Leo sighed. He had wanted the avocado to be serious. He put down his pencil and sat on the end of the bed causing Crunchy to open one eye. Across the drive a light flickered in the barn and Leo absently wondered who would be out there after dark. Squaring his shoulders, he slipped his feet into Sugarman's boots and walked back across the room to his desk.

"I'll get you yet Avocado! You can't escape from Sugarman!

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