Masquerade (Masks: Book 2)

Iris tries to balance her double life of crime fighting and playing the normal high school girl, but, as more secrets are revealed, that becomes increasingly difficult.

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1. Tense

~~Iris kicked out at Raven’s head. He ducked and lunged at her grounded foot, hoping to knock her down. She dodged him by falling to the side and rolling away, regaining her footing quickly. She aimed a punch at his face and, when he blocked it, she aimed another at his stomach. He grabbed the second hand that came at him and spun, ending up behind her, still holding the arm. She struggled to free herself, but he kicked her ankles out from under her and she landed on her stomach with a thud.
Iris lay on the ground, panting, disappointed that she still had not beaten him. She sighed as he released her and she began rubbing her shoulder. “You nearly ripped my arm off.”
“You should be more focused.” He replied simply.
“Yeah, yeah.” She looked at the ground, knowing he was right. She needed to concentrate more. However, she was rather distracted by the information she had received from Robin a few days before. Every time she saw Raven, she had to resist the urge to say something about it. She didn’t want him to know that she knew about the death of his family. She stood and dusted herself off, preparing for round two.
Despite her exertion, chill bumps ran up and down her bare arms. Winter was fast approaching and the nights were too cold for most people to be out. However, she had no intention of complaining about it. She didn’t want to give Raven another reason to look down on her. Instead, she moved more quickly to try and keep herself warm. By the time they were finished for the night, she was too worn out to worry about Raven anymore. He, on the other hand, seemed fine.
He looked down at Iris as she sat on the ground, trying to catch her breath. “I will see you tomorrow.”
She could only nod in response as he walked away. It took a few minutes for her to stand up and return home. She slipped into bed without even changing out of her jogging suit.

The following morning, she spent the better part of an hour soaking her stiff muscles in the shower. By the time she was done, she was able to move about freely again, which was good because the shop was busy that afternoon and she didn’t have time to be slow.
She didn’t get to go easy on her muscles that night, either. She wondered if Raven ever got stiff, but didn’t have time to think about it long because his fist was coming towards her.
When she returned home that night, she took a bath. She knew Orchid must have heard her, but the older girl didn’t come out of her room to say anything. Even though Iris knew that Orchid was aware of her activities, neither girl made any attempt to say anything to the other about it.
She flopped onto the bed, still thinking about it. She was soon joined by Clark Kent who meowed and jumped on her chest. She couldn’t help but laugh as she began petting him. “You are the most demanding thing. You know that?”
He purred in response and lay down on her chest. Iris loved the cat. No matter how hectic her life became, he was always constant.

Robin stopped by the shop while Iris was working on Monday. Her mother quickly slipped into the back room to give them privacy and Iris smiled brightly at him. “Hello, you.”
He smiled back with the smile that always made her heart skip a beat. “Hey, beautiful.”
“Your bruise is healing well, it seems.” She touched her own cheek as an indicator. She knew how hard Raven could punch and was glad Robin didn’t have a more serious injury.
He reached up and touched the discolored skin. “Yeah. I’ve always healed pretty quickly.” He walked up to the counter. “But I don’t think Raven was putting all his strength into the punch anyway. If he had, it would have been worse.”
Iris nodded. She knew Raven could hit pretty hard, but she had no intention of admitting to that. “Maybe that’s a good sign, though.”
He shrugged. “Maybe.” He looked through the door.
She suddenly became suspicious. “So what are you doing here today?”
Robin looked at her with surprise, but quickly smiled again. “I need an excuse to visit the girl I’m dating?”
“No.” She watched his face for any tricks. “But you would need an excuse to see the guy who punched you and visiting me when he comes would be quite convenient.”
He looked down at the counter, sheepishly. “Nothing gets past you, huh?”
“Why do you want to see him? You said yourself you two aren’t on good terms and I get the feeling he doesn’t want to see you.” She was somewhat concerned about an encore of their previous encounter.
“Yeah, but…” He kept his eyes down. “I guess I feel bad for the way we left things. I wasn’t really a good friend when everything happened. I was so caught up with my own issues, I forgot that it was so much harder for him. He lost everything during that time and I never even tried to comfort him, so, now, I just want to make things right.”
She blinked and looked down at the flowers, not sure she wanted to read Robin’s expression. “What exactly are you hoping for, today?”
The bell rang as Raven came in, carrying the usual order. He acted like Robin wasn’t even there as he set the box on the counter.
Robin smiled at him. “Hey. How are you?”
Raven ignored him.
Iris looked between the two uncomfortably, unsure what to say or if she should say anything.
“So, I was thinking,” Robin went on, casually, “Why don’t we grab a cup of coffee sometime and catch up.”
“Not interested.” Raven told him, shortly.
“Look, I know I didn’t handle things well the other day.” Robin admitted, “But I really would like to catch up. I promise not to bring up any unpleasant business.”
“Not interested.” He repeated.
Iris looked toward the backroom, wondering if her mother had heard Raven come in. She wondered if she should say something to her, but then looked back at the boys. The tension in the room was too high and she didn’t want to leave them alone for fear of more violence. She forced a smile on. “Come, now, Raven. Having coffee is the least you can do after hitting him.”
Raven looked at her, silently.
 “Buying a guy a cup of coffee is a socially acceptable way of dealing with a conflict, isn’t it?” Robin pointed out, picking his words carefully.
“I don’t remember you being the type to speak so formally.” Raven’s words were directed at Robin, but his eyes stayed on Iris, making her uncomfortable.
Robin shrugged. “Well, I figure if I talk like that, it might convince you.”
Iris giggled, hoping to relieve some of the tension. “Is coffee really so bad?”
Raven stayed silent for a minute. “I’ll think about it.”
Mrs. Bloom came out then, holding Raven’s check and smiling as though she didn’t even notice the tension. “Good to see you again.” She handed Raven his check. “Same time next week?”
Raven left quickly and Iris breathed a sigh of relief as she watched him go. She gave Robin a look, but didn’t say anything.
He just smiled at the two women, “I guess I’ll be going, too. I don’t want to keep you from working.” He left with a smile.
Mrs. Bloom sighed, “I’m sorry I left you alone with them. I just thought the two needed to talk and I figured that was the best way to keep Raven from running off.”
Iris looked at her mother, surprised.
She smiled at her daughter, “Next time, you can hide out in the back with me, okay.”
Iris laughed, “Well, if I had done that, Raven may have hit Robin again. Can’t have that, can we?” She opened the box and began pulling out vases. As usual, the quality was unbeatable.

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