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Masks
     Everybody knows who I am, but nobody knows me.  Confused? Good.  Then you understand what I mean.  I treat everyone in the same vague manner that I've been treated all my life.  Some people find the mystery intriguing, others find it annoying (I know this mainly because people have told me so, in an attempt to get me to reveal something about myself).  But there is no mystery.  My life is a joke.

     I live with my father, since my parents divorced several years ago.  Maybe six years...? I can't remember... it's not important anyway.  My little brother stays with my mother, but my parents don't have joint custody.  I don't get to see my little brother much.  He's one of the few people I let myself care about.

     I was standing in the lobby of his apartment building, listening to the intercom phone ringing, and waiting for an answer.  It's tradition. I always walk him to school in the mornings, and back home after school.  It's out of my way, but it's the only way I get to see him on weekdays.  My mother won't let him come stay with our father and I, because she knows that our father is never at home.  Dad’s work is more important to him than anything else.  And she doesn’t trust me to be responsible for him; how can you trust someone you don’t even know? Finally, I heard a click, someone had picked up the receiver.

     "Hello?" My mother asked.

     "It's me," I answered.  "Is he ready yet?"

     "Not for another ten minutes or so... why don't you come in and wait?"

     "I'm fine out here," I replied coolly.  I heard my mother's sigh, and she pressed the button to open the door and let me in anyway.  The door clicked, and feeling a bit unlike myself, I opened the door and headed down the hallway to the apartment where I had spent the first six years of my life.  The hallways were narrow, and the faceless blue doors of each apartment and service room stared at me, mocking me perhaps, or asking me why they had not seen me in so long.  I arrived at the apartment, 210, and opened the door without knocking.  My mother looked up, a smile on her face.  I looked around, a little curiously.  Eight years is a long time, and the apartment was not as I remembered it.   Feeling out of place, I shifted uncomfortably before slipping off my boots and stepping out of the porch.

     "Good morning," my mother greeted me, I offered a smile in reply.  The words on my mind escaped before I had a chance to stop them.

     "It's been a long time..." Mentally scolding myself, I tried to shake the clouds of insufficient sleep out of my head.  "I just mean, it looks different..."

     "It has been six years," my mother replied, smiling.  "Things have changed.  None of your father's cigarettes, and your brother doesn't play with the same toys anymore.”

     A small navy-blue and white torpedo crashed into me, and laughingly cried, "Big brother!"  My little brother looked up at me with wide, innocent eyes sparkling happily.  "You came in!"

     "Yeah," I replied, smiling at him and tweaking his nose, "you were slow again this morning."

     "You have to see my bedroom!" he said enthusiastically, snatching my hand and pulling me down the hallway.  The walls of his bedroom were adorned with the types of pictures an eight-year-old boy would draw, some of him and his -- our mother, some of the three of us, and one with a man drawn in black crayon.  I asked him who the man was, and he replied that it was our father, but he didn't know how to draw dad since it had been so many years since they'd been together.  I jokingly told him that I wasn’t sure if I would be able to recognize dad if I saw him, but the joke was lost on him.  He just looked at me, confused.  I shrugged, and told him to finish getting ready for school so we wouldn’t be late.  He nodded, and ran off into the bathroom.  Looking around the room, it reminded me of what my bedroom looked like, when I was his age.  Something in my backpack dug into my back, and I shrugged uncomfortably.

     The walk to his school was a short one, so we didn’t rush.  That’s the only time we truly have to be together, before and after school.  All too soon, we arrived at his school.  I watched him walk through the double doors of his school, waving when he turned around to look back at me.  I walked the rest of the way, to my own school, in silence. The route was one I was used to taking, although it was longer than it would be if I didn’t walk to my brother’s school as well.  A kid with ridiculously poofy brown hair zoomed by me on the sidewalk, rollerblading, and I remembered that the teacher had mentioned we were getting a new student today.  In all likelihood he or she would end up in our class.  As the smallest class in our school, we had already gotten three new students that year.  Glancing at my watch, I realized that I was going to be late again today.  I had been late three times that week (and it was now Friday), and this new late would earn me detention for the entirety of next week.  Adjusting my backpack on my shoulders, I began to run.

     I opened the door and stepped into the classroom, a sheepish pink staining my cheeks.  I knew what was going to happen, because I was late, again.  The teacher raised a single eyebrow at me as I glanced at her, and she nodded at me, mouthing the word “detention.”  I bowed my head, nodding slightly.  I glanced up at the class then, and smirked upon spotting the new student.  I had been right, again.  A student at the back of the class glowered at me, I had known for a long time that my attitude bothered her.  But, truth to be told, I didn’t care.  I didn’t care about anyone, and I didn’t care what they thought about me.  This was mainly because I knew that if I let myself care about anyone, they would just disappoint me in the end.  For all of the people I’d ever cared about, they’d let me down.  My little brother was the exception to the rule; he was still young and innocent.  I never wanted him to end up as I had, but I never wanted him to get hurt.  I could remember going to court with grand-mama, as our mother and father argued over custody.  I knew they both wanted my little brother, but as time passed, I started to draw hints; neither one of them wanted me.  My father’s distant attitude toward me supported my beliefs, and then my grandmother had died.  I felt like everyone was deserting me, and I came to the inevitable conclusion.  No matter who you knew, they would leave or disappoint you.  My life was one disappointment followed by another.

     Class slipped by uneventfully, as students did their work, or didn’t do their work while making it seem as though they were... Of course, I knew this because I partly fell into both categories; doing work and looking up when something caught my attention.  I noticed the new student looking at me a little curiously once, so I gave him a cool look before returning to my assignment.  The bell rang, and our teacher left.  The students became noisier without an authoritative presence to shush them, pulling out their lunches and starting to eat.  The new student came over to my desk.  I wondered why, of all the students, had he chosen to approach me?  Nonetheless, I looked up at him neutrally.  I didn’t want to start a bad relationship with him; I’d had enough of that.  I didn’t necessarily want to start a good relationship, either.

     “Hi!” he chirped cheerfully, grinning lopsidedly at me.  “I’m Taichi.  I just moved here.  You can call me Tai.” I thought he was far too cheerful for the first day of a new school.

     “I’m Matt,” I replied.  Just to be polite.  “Where did you move from?”  A girl nearby, Sora, had stood up, exclaiming over something her friend had said, so he grabbed her chair and twisted it around so the back was facing me, and he sat down on it backwards.  Sora went to sit down, and yelped at the apparent lack of chair as her bottom landed squarely on the floor.  Taichi didn’t even notice.  He grinned at me again.

     “I saw you this morning.  If I knew you were going to be at the same school as me, I would have told you to hurry up.  I moved here from Heightenview Terrace, it’s not too far from here.  Maybe you’ve been there!”  His energy seemed almost contagious, I felt more cheerful just being around him.  There was an innocence about him, and he reminded me of my brother.

     “I used to live there,” I offered.  “We moved away when I was six.”

     “Six!” He repeated.  “You should go there again.  Everyone there is really nice.  If you’d been there more recently, then I’d know someone here! You!”

     “Yeah,” I replied, wondering slightly.  How could anyone be so cheerful? “But my parents split up then.  That’s why I haven’t been there since.  I live with my dad.”  He stood up again suddenly.

    “Show me around the school!” he exclaimed.  He wasn’t being bossy.  All the same he still expected me to comply, as though it would be a shock if I didn’t.  I idly wondered what relationship he had with the other students in his old school, before deciding it didn’t matter.  I stood up, too.

    “I guess I have nothing better to do,” I said.  He laughed, as though I had made a joke.  I didn’t understand, but smirked anyway.  “Not that there’s much to see.”

    “So let’s go,” he said.  “You can tell me about some of the other students, too.”  I hesitated, wondering if he really wanted to get involved with a person like me.  He was so cheerful, but I was always serious.  I looked at him again, curiously.  “Hey, come on,” he said.  “I chose you for a reason.  Let’s go.”

    “Reason?” I repeated.  “You don’t even know me.”

    “No,” he agreed, “I don’t.  But I will.”  He grabbed my wrist, and started pulling me out the door.  He grinned lopsidedly at me again, and I couldn’t help but smile back as he closed the door behind me.

~Fin~