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It started out as a small thing, the mask collection of Emma Clark. But slowly it grew into something bigger than she could ever imagine. It started when she saw a beautiful mask in a store one day and decided to buy it. She wore it to school the next day and realized that the cheerleaders, the girls who would normally make fun of her and push her down, actually seemed to talk to her in a decent, nice, voice.
What is going on here? She thought as they showered her with compliments about her new mask.
“I just love that mask, Emma!” cried Natalie, the head cheerleader. “It makes your head seem…smaller, and more feminine.
“The color totally suits your skin type,” offered Danielle.
“I want one just like it!” offered another.
Wow, they actually think I’m cool! They want me to be apart of their group! Emma thought excitedly.
The week flew by, with Emma sitting at the cheerleading table for lunch instead of with her small group of friends at their regular table. She wore her mask every single day, and never left the house without it. Natalie convinced the cheerleading coach to let Emma try out late, and Emma practiced for days on her routine. On the day of the audition she did well and made it on the team, which was a big shock for her since she never knew that she was good at cheerleading.
On Sunday she went shopping for new, cooler clothes, to fit in more with the cheerleading group. As she looked through the aisles of skinny jeans and tight tank tops, something caught her eye. It was another mask. But this one was different. Instead of being bright and bubbly, it was darker and a little more revealing. The shape made it look very sexy and edgy, and even though that was not her style at all, she bought it anyway.
On Monday she wore her new mask to school. As she walked down the halls she noticed something different. People were staring, but not just any people, guys were staring, and not just any guys, hot guys. Guys that had always turned away from her when she walked near them, or who laughed at her when she accidently tripped in the hall. Guys that she secretly dreamed about at night, and who’s names she circled with hearts in her journal.
She walked to her locker and got out her books for first period math. A tap on the shoulder startled her, and as she turned around her heart skipped a beat. It was Jason Riggs, only the hottest, most gorgeous guy in school!
“Sorry to startle you, but I just wanted to let you know that I like your mask,” he said in his charming voice. “It makes you look…different, but in a good way. A really good way!”
Be cool, be cool. She told herself. Don’t say anything stupid to ruin this moment!
“Thanks! I’ve had this forever, but never really felt like wearing it until now,” she lied.
“You should have! We would have gone on a date a lot sooner if you had worn it before,” he said with a grin.
“Yeah, Friday night sound good to you?”
“Sure—I mean, that’s fine with me,” she said as she flashed him a cute smile.
“Ok, I’ll pick you up around six,” he said as he squeezed her elbow. It made her heart flutter.
“See you then!” she said as he walked away.
OH MY GOSH! What just happened? She thought as she slammed her locker door. Did Jason Riggs just ask me out? I need to get some more of these masks!
“Nice mask, Emma!” cried Mike, a nerdy kid from her English class. He ran to catch up with her.
Oh, great. Why is he talking to me? Emma thought to herself as she grabbed her coke from the vending machine. It was Thursday, and today she was wearing a funny-looking mask. It was dull with accessories in all the wrong places, but, strangely, she liked it. Usually she would never wear something this weird looking, but since she was trying to branch out and try new things, she decided to give it a try.
It’s not that she disliked Mike, it’s just that she didn’t want to be seen walking with him down the hall. He was classified as a ‘gerk’ a geek and a nerd. If she were caught even being around him, her date with Jason tomorrow night would definitely be over!
“Listen, I heard that you wanted to be in the honors math class,” he said.
She gasped. How did he know about that? It was a dream of hers to be in that class, a dream she’d only shared with one person in her entire life.
“What makes you think that?” she asked casually.
“I overheard you talking to Mr. Cosin about it. I just wanted to let you know that if you still want to be in it, we have a spot open and we would like you to fill it.”
“Are you serious?”
“Yep, we would be honored to have you.”
Just then she saw Jason walking toward her. She put her head down and tried to move a little farther away from Mike. But to her surprise, Jason glanced at her and then looked away. He didn’t even seem to recognize her!
What is going on here? Doesn’t he know that it’s me, the girl he’s taking out tomorrow night? Maybe he doesn’t recognize me because I’m wearing a different mask.
“So, will you do it?” asked Mike, interrupting her thoughts.
“What? Oh yeah—I mean, of course! I would love to join the honors math class!”
“Great! We’re first period, so instead of going to your regular class tomorrow, come to room 103 and we’ll be there!”
“Ok, room 103, got it! Thanks so much! See you tomorrow!” she cried as he walked to his locker.
This is so great! Honors math! Who would have thought?
The last bell rang for the day and students piled into the halls, laughing and talking excitedly about their plans for the weekend. Emma ran to her locker and shoved her books in. She took one last look in the mirror and smiled at her reflection. Her latest edition to her mask collection—which was growing rapidly—was a black, mysterious one. It made her look older and she felt a lot cooler in it.
As she walked out of the building to her car she heard her name being called. As she turned around she noticed a group of people, all wearing black and smoking cigarettes.
“Yo, Emma! You got a sec?” one of the guys yelled.
“Um, sure!” she yelled as she walked over to them. She recognized them as the group everyone called The Rebels or TR’s. They were known for ditching school, ruining the school bathrooms, and partying hard on the weekends.
As she got closer she one of the guys, who appeared to be the leader, went over to greet her. She remembered him, mainly because everyone in school knew him as Slash, although nobody knew his real name. He was tall, with dark hair. He had a cute face that had the traces of a scraggly goatee on it. He puffed on a cigarette and casually blew it in the air as she reached him. She tried not to gag. A bottle of strong-smelling alcohol was in his other hand and every once in a while he took drinks of it. He reeked of stale beer and smoke.
“Hey, what’s up?” she asked.
“Nothing much. Cool mask,” he said as he touched it. His hand—which still held the cigarette—near her face made her feel a little nervous, but at the same time a rush of excitement swept through her. Normally, in a situation like this she would be frightened. She never hung out with people who drank or smoked, but today she felt different. She felt that somehow her mask was allowing her to fit in, to be like them. The only thing is, she didn’t know if she wanted to be like them.
“We saw you in the hall today and wanted to know if you would like to hang with us tonight?” he asked as he took another puff.
“Um, tonight?” she replied, thinking back to her date with Jason. “I’m not sure if I can tonight, I sorta made plans already.”
“Well that’s cool, how ‘bout tomorrow night? Some guys we know are having a party at their beach house, if you wanna come,” he said as he finished his cigarette. He threw the butt on the ground and grabbed another one out of his pocket along with a lighter. As he lit it, he took a long drink from his bottle.
“You want a drink?” he said as he offered her the bottle.
“Oh, uh, no thanks. I—I don’t like um, alcohol,” she said timidly.
“You ever tried some?”
“How do you know if you like it or not then?”
“I—I don’t know, it just never appealed to me.”
“Come on,” he said as he pressed the bottle into her hand. “Just give it a try, I’m sure you’ll find that you like it.”
All she could do was stare at the bottle. She always told herself that she would never drink because she thought it was a disgusting addiction. She hated being around people who drank and she wasn’t in the least prepared to be in this kind position.
She glanced at the group behind Slash. There were girls dressed in skimpy outfits, some of them with their arms twisted around different guys. Cigarette butts littered the ground and there was a haze around them from all the smoke. A bottle of whiskey was being handed around and everyone was having a drink. They all stared at her, their eyes daring her to try it. She looked back at Slash, only to see him lighting another cigarette for himself.
“Why don’t you give it a go? If you don’t like it, we won’t hold anything against you,” he insisted as he placed the cigarette in his mouth and fixed his gaze on her.
Oh my gosh, what the heck do I do!? Her thoughts screamed.
She could feel their eyes on her, staring holes through her. She took a deep breath and lifted the bottle to her lips.
Just a tiny sip, do it and get it over with!
The liquid burned on her tongue and the taste was awful! Somehow she managed to swallow it and almost gagged as it burnt her throat going down. She quickly handed the bottle back to him, as smiles and words of approval erupted from the group. She took a deep breath, trying to get the taste out of her mouth.
“Awesome!” said Slash. “It really doesn’t taste that bad, does it?”
“No, uh, it’s good,” she lied.
In reality, she wanted to find the nearest trashcan and throw up. At least the burn was subsiding from her throat.
“So, you wanna come tomorrow?” Slash asked.
“Uh, I’m not sure yet.”
“Tell you what, why don’t I give you the address and if you feel like going tomorrow you can just show up?”
“Ok, sounds good.”
He took a slip of paper from his pocket and scribbled down an address in messy handwriting.
“You’ll be missing one heck of a party if you decide not to come,” he said as he handed her the paper.
“I’ll think about it,” she replied, flashing him a smile as he walked back to his group.
She waved goodbye and walked over to her car. As she tried to come to terms with what just happened, she glanced at her reflection in the window of a black SUV. What she saw was a girl with a mask on.
Maybe this mask thing isn’t such a great idea.
But then she remembered Jason, and the cheerleaders, and her dream honors math class, and brushed the previous thought away as she hopped in her car and turned her radio on. She let her mind wander to what she would wear tonight on her date.
It had now been several years since high school and Emma graduated with a math scholarship to Cambridge University. She’d been in college for two years and she finally felt herself falling into a routine. Classes took up her weekdays and the evenings were spent studying. But on the weekends there were parties everywhere and the students took a break from studying to have a good time. So far, Emma had been to several different parties, and each one was different from the last, but on each occasion, she wore a different mask according to where she was going. Her mask collection had grown to where it was taking up three dresser drawers. She never went out without one on, and even in her room she wore them, depending on what mood she was in. She felt insecure without them, she relied on them, and gradually, over the years; she looked at her actual face in the mirror less and less. She began to feel that her face wasn’t pretty enough and not worthy of showing. She reached the point where she didn’t even like looking at her face, unless she had a mask on.
One evening, Emma heard a brisk knock on the door. Looking up quickly, she yelled out for them to hold on for a moment, and then flung open her drawers in search of a mask to wear since she had just gotten out of the shower and she didn’t have one on.
Nope, not this one! No, no, no! Ugh, which one?! She thought as she dug through them all. She finally found the one she was looking for. A warm, inviting mask, the one she used when guests were here.
She hastily put it on and then opened the door. A man was standing there with a nice smile on his face. Emma knew him instantly. It was Jake Bailey, the guy she’d been fixing her eye on for some time. He was in some of her classes and at lunch he usually sat at a table near her. He was tall with curly dark hair that was always falling in his eyes. His face was handsome, with green eyes and a smile that always showed dimples. Even in his ripped jeans, flip flops, and striped shirt he looked adorable. Emma’s heart melted when she saw him standing there, at her door!
“Uh, hello,” he said as he looked at her. “Um, is this Emma Clark’s room?”
“Yes it is,” she replied.
He glanced in the room quickly.
“Is she here?”
“Yes, she is.”
“Uh, could I speak to her?”
“You are, I’m Emma Clark,” she said, a tiny bit offended that he didn’t know who she was by looking at her.
“Oh, sorry! I didn’t recognize you with that, um, mask,” he explained. “Last time I saw you, you looked different.”
“Would you like to come in?” Emma asked, holding the door open wider.
He walked in and she offered him a spot on the small pink and brown couch.
“Want anything to drink?” she asked over her shoulder as she quickly dug through her drawer for a new mask. She wanted something cuter, a little more vibrant and romantic. She found what she was looking for and replaced it with the old one.
“No, I’m good,” Jake replied.
“So, how have you been?” she asked as she turned around to face him.
Oh, uh, good!” he said as he stared at her with a confused look on his face. “Weren’t you wearing a different mask just a second ago?”
“Yeah, but I got bored. I love to change masks!”
This is kind of awkward. She thought to herself.
“So, how ‘bout that history test we had last week?” she said, attempting to liven up the conversation. “I studied for hours for that!”
“Yeah, I guess it was pretty hard, but I have a good feeling that I got a good score, how about you?”
“I don’t know, it was pretty hard. I’ll be happy with a B.”
“How do you think you did on math?”
“To tell you the truth, I think I aced it.”
“Oh, and what makes you so sure?” he asked teasingly.
“I’m like a genius at math,” she replied in her own teasing tone.
“Will you excuse me for just a second?” she asked as she got up from the couch. She went to her drawer and picked out a new mask, one that she wore when she was doing—or discussing—school subjects.
“Oh, you changed your mask again,” he said as he noticed the difference.
Emma thought his tone sounded a little funny.
“So, um, how do you like college so far?” she questioned.
“It’s ok, I guess. Different to what I thought it would be.”
“I don’t know, just different.”
They talked for another couple of minutes about school and things. Emma noticed that his interest seemed to have gone down, and that when he talked he wouldn’t look her in the eye instead he looked everywhere but her.
“Well I guess I’d better be going,” he said as he got up to leave.
“Oh, ok,” she said, somewhat startled by his urge to leave.
As he walked out the door she stopped him. “Are you busy on Friday? We could go catch a movie and then get some pizza or something.”
He sighed and then looked her straight in the eye. “To be honest, I actually came here to ask you out on Friday, but—and I’m sorry to say—I’ve changed my mind. I thought I knew who you were, but I guess I don’t. You change all the time. You never look the same, you always wear different masks, I don’t even know what your face looks like! I want someone who is genuine and not afraid to be themselves and you’re not that, I’m sorry, I have to go.” And with that he walked off.
Emma watched him leave with tears in her eyes. Partly because she really liked Jake, but mostly because everything he said about her was true.