A young man of roughly sixteen years of age stepped through the doors of his school, the rush of noise and people that washed over him invigorating him. He retreated to the bathroom to inspect his appearance before the start of class. Facing himself in the mirror, he straightened his collar, combed his auburn hair, and adjusted the full face mask he wore. It was ebony, white as a full moon on a crisp winter night. It was elaborate with bold silver designs decorating the edges, along with a broad grin painted across the mask. It covered his chin to his forehead, curving around his cheeks and resting on his ears. The only thing he could see was his hazel eyes staring back at him.
Satisfied with his appearance, he made his way to class. The entirety of the way he offered waves that often were ignored, 'hello's unanswered, hand shakes and fist bumps left forgotten, but still he persisted to greet everyone. That phony grin simply planted on his face, in fact, no one asked about the mask; it would seem that nobody saw it and if they did, they didn't care. Lowering himself into his desk, he scanned the room; observing everyone. He made his rounds, welcoming his classmates and inserting himself happily into their conversations. To light a spark to the conversation, the young man would mention something he had done or could do now. His mind screamed for attention, Look at me! I'm worth seeing! When he wasn't listening they muttered words that leaked with mockery and annoyance.
As the young man's day progressed he sought out his best friend, she was not someone who would normally gain friends such as him and yet, they were friends. As he told her about his day she said, "Your eyes say otherwise."
"What?" He asked incredulously,
She chuckled, "how did your day really go?"
The young man thought about this carefully before sighing, "it was good."
The young woman shook her head in disappointment, she had told him everything and yet he couldn't tell her this. "I'm your friend," she assured him, "I'm not going to stop being your friend and I'm here for you." She reached up and pulled the mask from his face, "so don't be afraid to tell me about it."
The young man's eyes grew wide, "you see it?" She nodded, waiting for him to continue.
His eyes shifted around as if he were ashamed, "I don't feel seen, I feel misunderstood." He sighed, "it's like I don't have any real friends, like everyone is pretending. No matter what I do, no one likes me. I don't understand why." He had his eyes squeezed shut as if he were in pain, the young woman brushed aside a long strand of dark brown hair before resting a hand on his.
"I see you." She waited until he met her gaze before continuing, "I can understand if you let me try." She laughed, a sound that eased his ebbing pain. "And for the last time, I'm your friend and I'm not pretending!" She pulled away, holding up the mask. "This," she said, shaking the mask, "is pretending."
He looked at her with sad eyes, "give me that back. It would be better if I just put that back on and pretend like-"
She interrupted him, "what? That nothing's wrong?" She took hold of both his arms, gently shaking him. "Don't do that. Please, don't do that." He simply stared down at her, his eyes swimming with too many emotions to decipher. Sighing, the young woman handed him back his mask. Turning to walk away, she spoke softly over her shoulder. "I see you."