A Blank Page - Chapter 6


A Blank Page
Chapter 6
By Flummox


It was incredible.

Raymond stared at his reflection in the mirror. A young girl stared back. That was him. He was her. As he stared at the girl, Raymond experienced a rush of feelings the likes of which he had never felt before. His whole life, Raymond had felt trapped. Imprisoned in his own skin. He had struggled, and struggled, to be comfortable with himself. He had lost weight. He had gotten in the best shape he had ever been in. He had expected to finally like himself. He hadn’t. He had still felt trapped. Claustrophobic. As if he was locked in a small box. Banging on the walls, desperately trying to escape.

But now that lock had been opened, and for the first time in his life, Raymond felt free. The feeling of wrongness that had been his constant companion. His prison warden. Just like that, it was gone.

“Oh my gosh,” he breathed, “That’s me?”

Evalyn wrapped her arm around his shoulder.

“I told you know one would know. Didn’t I my darling little sister?” She asked, emphasising the word ‘sister’.

“I mean, yeah.” He whispered, still wide eyed, “But I didn’t believe you. I don’t even recognize myself.”

“That’s the point!” Evalyn laughed, “Alright, the last thing we need is the shoes.”

From the duffel bag, she pulled a pair of light blue sandals, “I would have liked to have gotten you into some heels, but I didn’t think that would be a good idea. You’d probably wipe out.” She teased.

Raymo- No. Rayne. Rayne slipped her feet into the sandals. Everything seemed to be moving in slow motion. It was surreal.

She took a small purse that Evalyn offered, and loaded it with her phone. As she reached for Raymond’s wallet Evalyn gently shook her head.

“You can’t take your wallet.” She began, “It wouldn’t fit for you to have a guy’s wallet in a girl’s purse. Just take whatever you might need out of your wallet and put it in your bag.”

Rayne nodded slowly, doing as she was told.

“Glasses too.” Evalyn instructed, holding out a glasses case, “I brought your contacts.”

Rayne scrunched up her face. She had gotten the contacts over the summer but didn’t wear them often. She just thought her glasses were more comfortable. Rayne was about to object and ask why, but Evalyn answered her question before she even opened her lips.

“You rarely to wear your contacts to school, right? If you wear them now, then it’s just one more change of features that’ll keep you from being recognized.”

Rayne sighed and gingerly slipped off her glasses and stowed them in the offered case. As usual, she couldn’t really argue with her sister’s logic. At least she was allowed to keep them in her purse.

Evalyn spent a few minutes coaching Rayne on her voice. As puberty had yet to truly strike Raymond, it took little effort for Rayne to adjust her voice to a tone that sounded both natural, and fitting to the young girl.

After a few more minutes getting coached on feminine mannerisms, and how to do simple things such as sit down and get into and out of vehicles without flashing anyone, Evalyn declared him ready.

“Alright! Let’s go see Ms. Mira.” Evalyn announced happily, grabbing Raymond’s belongings and tossing them into the duffel beg.

They left the changing rooms, Rayne only hesitating for a moment, and began walking down the halls.

Swish.

The feeling of the dress moving as they walked was so different from anything Rayne had ever experienced before. It was completely different from the sweatpants and jeans that Raymond was so accustomed to.

“I told Ms. Mira that we’d meet her at the teacher’s parking lot.” Evalyn explained, drawing Rayne from her thoughts, “She should be loading everything into her car already. The only other students from our school who will be there tonight are two 12th graders. They’ll be meeting you and Ms. Mira there, and they have no clue who you are.”

Rayne just nodded. Still dumbstruck by the whole thing. They passed a few students in the halls – Rayne’s heart seized up – but they barely noticed her. A few said hi to Evalyn, most just looked at Rayne curiously, but there was never any sign of recognition on their faces.

They finally exited the school. Evalyn decided that they would cut across the field to reach the parking lot a bit sooner. This meant they were passing right by a large group of boys, practicing for the first football game of the season next week. There were a few people Rayne recognized as friends of either Sebastian, Evalyn, or both of them, but thankfully Sebastian himself was not present.

Rayne had just thought they had made it into the clear when she heard a voice behind them.

“Hey Evalyn!”

They turned to see a tall muscular boy jogging up to them. He had short black hair and grey eyes. He wore a t-shirt and shorts, and was clearly sweating from the workout. Rayne recognized him as one of the football players from the previous year. His name was Jackson and Rayne knew him to be a friend of Sebastian’s. Raymond had met him on a few occasions the previous year. He had always seemed nice enough.

“Oh hey Jackson!” Evalyn greeted cheerfully, “How’s it going?”

“Not bad, just showin’ some of the newbies on the team a few things.” He said, looking at the rest of the boys he had been practicing with. Most were exhausted and out of breath.

“Wha’cha up to?” he asked, “You’re usually not around here this time of day. And who’s your friend?” He asked looking at Rayne for the first time. He looked her up and down, not giving any sign that he knew Rayne was really Raymond, or even that he thought Rayne was a boy.

Rayne blushed at the boy’s attention, “Oh, uh, I’m…” She trailed off, looking down at her feet, wishing she could just hide behind Evalyn like a scared child.

Evalyn giggled and wrapped her arm around Rayne’s shoulder.

“Sorry Jackson, this is my little cousin Rayne.” The lie rolled effortlessly off her tongue, “You’ll have to forgive her, she’s really shy. She had wanted to see my school so I was giving her a quick tour. Isn’t that right Rayne?”

Rayne gave a small nod. Still looking at her feet.

Jackson smiled warmly, “Well it’s a pleasure to meet you Rayne.” He said kindly, “I have to get back to the guys, but I hope to see you around.”

He turned to go, but then stopped and looked back.

“And just so you know,” He said, “I think shy girls are cute.”

Rayne’s jaw dropped. She blushed furiously, as Jackson chuckled, winked at her, and jogged off.

The moment he was gone Evalyn started to laugh.

“He thought you were cute!” She said, “Geeze Ray, I told you that you’d be getting some admirers, I just thought they’d be girls!” she teased.

At Rayne’s horrified expression Evalyn just laughed harder.

“Evaaaaaa” Rayne whined. “It’s not funny!” She said sternly, hands on her hips.

Evalyn just laughed harder. When she had finally calmed down she pointed to the crowd of boys. Rayne followed her finger to see several of the boys, Jackson included, watching the two girls and smiling.

Rayne didn’t think she could possibly blush any brighter. With a groan, she covered her face with her hands as Evalyn began to laugh hysterically. A moment later Rayne couldn’t help it anymore and began to giggle with her. After taking a moment to catch their breath, the two continued on their way.

They found Ms. Mira leaning over in her car, making sure she had everything they would need at the showing.

“Hey Ms. Mira!” Evalyn called as they approached.

The teacher stood and turned around, “Hey Evalyn!” She called back before looking around, “Where’s Raymond?”

“Oh, he’ll be here.” She answered innocently, elbowing Rayne to play along.

Rayne didn’t know what to do. Even if she didn’t want to play along, she would have had no idea how to break the ice with her teacher.

“Well he better hurry.” Ms. Mira said impatiently, “We need to hit the road! Anyways, who’s this with you? I don’t recognize her from our sch-

She stopped and took a hard look at Rayne. What she had just said wasn’t true. There was something about this girl that was, in fact, familiar.

Her eyebrows knit themselves together as she tried to place it. Suddenly, those tightly knit brows flew apart in shock.

“Oh my God!” She exclaimed in disbelief, “Ray?!”

“Rayne.” Evalyn firmly corrected. “Her name is Rayne.”

“O-oh. Right. Of course.” Ms. Mira stammered, clearly taken off guard.

“Uh, H-hi Ms. Mira.” Came Rayne’s quiet voice. The blush returning to his face.

“You,” Ms. Mira paused to collect her thoughts, “Seriously look like a girl. I just thought you were one of Evalyn’s friends at first.”

“So did the boys on the field.” Evalyn announced, a mischievous grin on her face, “I think one might even have a crush on my precious little sister here. He called her cute.”

Ms. Mira’s eyes went wide and she tried (Unsuccessfully) to stifle a laugh.

“Evaaaaaaa.” Groaned Rayne. “Stoooooop.”

“Awww, don’t be embarrassed.” Ms. Mira teased good naturedly, “He’s probably just never seen such a pretty girl before.”

With a groan, Rayne once again covered her face with her hands, much to Ms. Mira and Evalyn’s amusement. She was starting to be thankful Evalyn made her wear her contacts. They kept her from constantly displacing her glasses when she tried to hide her face!

“Alright, enough teasing Ray…ne” Ms. Mira declared. “We have to get moving.”

“Okay, here’s the plan.” Evalyn explained, “You’re going to go to the showing with Ms. Mira. You’re going to do incredible. Then I’m going to pick you up from the convention center around 10. Sounds good?”

The first showing was taking place at a convention center as the gallery itself didn’t have the space necessary for all the students attending this stage.

“Yep.” Rayne confirmed. She could do this.

A short time later Rayne and Ms. Mira were waving to Evalyn as they pulled out of the teacher’s parking lot in Ms. Mira’s car. Soon they were zooming down the road, out of Lakewood, and on their way to Mountsview. They spent the drive discussing art, how many students they expected to be at this stage of the competition, and from what schools.

~o~O~o~

“So, are you sure you’re okay with this?” Ms. Mira asked as they pulled into the convention center parking lot.

“Okay with what?” Rayne asked, “Doing the showing? Or doing the showing dressed as a girl?”

“Either one.” Ms. Mira clarified, “Both.”

“To be honest I don’t know.” Ray explained with a heavy sigh. “What I do know is that I definitely won’t be able to do it as Raymond. Since getting dressed up earlier I’ve noticed some things though. I’m still shy like I was as Ray, and I blush. A lot.” Just saying it made her blush.

“Well then maybe we should call it off.” Ms. Mira said with a worried look on her face.

“Wait. I’m not done.” Rayne said confidently, “On the drive something occurred to me. Something big. In the past, whenever I was the center of attention, I would freeze. It would be hard to breath, I couldn’t talk, my mind would go blank, it would be all I could do to desperately hold back tears. It happened whenever people would pick on me, it happened when you called me forward in front of that room of grade 7 students, it happened all the time. I hated it.”

“Okaaay?” Said Ms. Mira. Unsure where this was going.

“But,” Rayne continued, “This afternoon, when Eva pointed out that an entire crowd of teenage boys were staring at me wearing a dress, I didn’t freeze. Sure, I blushed and was embarrassed at first. But I didn’t choke. I didn’t freeze. My mind didn’t go blank. And I didn’t cry.”

Ms. Mira nodded in understanding.

“If I’m going to do this,” Rayne pressed on, “and I want to. No. I need to do this. Then I will only be able to do it like this.” He said, gesturing to his appearance. “It might be hard, but I’ll make it though it.”

“Okay. Let’s go blow some minds.” Ms. Mira said, impressed by Rayne’s resolve and the confidence that was so rare in Raymond.

Together the two entered the building, Rayne’s heart pounding. Whether it was pounding in apprehension or excitement, she wasn’t sure.

As they walked through the door an excited voice called out, “Ms. Mira!”

A smiling teenage girl came running up, followed by a frowning teenage boy.

The girl wore a bright yellow dress that showed a little cleavage and came down to just above her knees. She had a brown belt wrapped around he waist, and a tangle of bracelets on each wrist. She wore a wide grin and her brown hair in a ponytail.

The boy was of Asian descent, had messy black hair and stud earrings. He wore a black dress shirt with a red tie and black dress pants.

The two seemed to contrast each other perfectly. The girl brightly clad and cheerful. The boy frowning and wearing clothes more fitting for a funeral than a gathering of artists.

“Hello Cynthia, Ryan.” She said, greeting each of them.

The boy, Ryan, just nodded back. Neither of them seemed to pay any heed to Rayne, standing off to the side of the small conversation. By now Rayne had worked out that these must be her upperclassmen.

After exchanging a few more words of greeting, Ms. Mira made a suggestion, “Alright, why don’t the four of us go check ourselves in, then we can find the area we’ve been assigned, and we can set up our displays. All of your work should already be here.”

“Sounds great!” Cynthia said excitedly, before pausing, “Wait. You said the four us?” she asked in confusion.

“Oh! Where are my manners.” Ms. Mira said, shaking her head, “This is Rayne,” she said gesturing to the fourth member of their party, “She’s also made it to the first showing. Rayne, I’d like you to meet Cynthia Gnoll, and Ryan Deartz. They’re the grade 12 students’ I told you about on the drive over.”

“H-hi” Rayne managed with a small wave. A wave clearly wasn’t enough for Cynthia, however, as she rushed over and grabbed Rayne’s hand in both of hers and gave it a good shake.

“Oh it’s soooo good to meet you! I can’t wait to see your work! Unless I’ve seen it around the school already! Wait, why haven’t I seen you around school? I’m sure I would remember someone as pretty as you! Especially if you’re an art student! What grade are you in? Did you go to our school last year? What kind of mediums do you like to use in your work? Maybe that will jog my memory.” Finally the bombardment ended with Cynthia looking at Rayne with an expectant smile on her face.

“Uhhhh,” was all Rayne could manage, unprepared for the rush of questions.

Ryan shook his head and spoke for the first time. “Jeeze Cynthia, give the girl some space. How can you expect her to answer your questions when you don’t give her the chance too?”

Cynthia puffed up her cheeks in annoyance, “Oh you shush Ryan. I didn’t ask your opinion, and besides, are you saying you’re NOT curious?”

“I never said that.” Ryan said with a roll of his eyes.

Both of them turned to look at Rayne expectantly.

“Uhhhh.” Rayne said, still overwhelmed.

Ryan raised an eyebrow, Cynthia’s brow furrowed suspiciously.

Ms. Mira laughed and came to Rayne’s rescue.

“Rayne’s a little shy, she’s probably just a bit overwhelmed by Cynthia’s explosive energy.” Ms. Mira explained, “Perhaps I could help answer some of your questions if Rayne doesn’t mind.”

Ms. Mira looked at Rayne with a kind smile.

Rayne had no clue how to answer some of the questions she had been asked without raising suspicions so she just nodded, “S- sure, that’d be, umm, really helpful.” She said quietly.

“Oh you’re so adorable!” Cynthia gushed at Rayne’s reaction, throwing her arms around Rayne, who just stood there awkwardly. Unsure what to do.

Ryan rolled his eyes. “Ms. Mira literally just said the girl’s shy, Cynthia. Don’t you think suddenly hugging her might make her uncomfortable?”

“Oh!” Cynthia leapt back, “I’m so sorry Rayne! I never meant to make you feel that way. I’m REALLY sorry if I did!”

Rayne giggled at her reaction, “It’s fine.” She said in the small, quiet voice that was becoming commonplace.

Ms. Mira and Cynthia smiled at the cuteness Rayne didn’t realize she was giving off. Even the seemingly ever-sullen Ryan’s lips twitched upwards for second.

“Well.” Ms. Mira began, “How about I answer some of your questions now?”

At Cynthia’s eager nod and Ryan’s slightly less eager nod, Ms. Mira began.

“The reason you haven’t seen Rayne around the school is because she doesn’t attend our school.” Ms. Mira explained, “Her family lives up in the mountains and she attends a small public school in the town of Hope. The reason I’m her art teacher is because her talent had out grown the small school, and its small art program wasn’t giving her the room to grow she needed. Her art teacher was an old friend, and he reached out to me to see if we could arrange something through a distance learning program. I was interested in her from the first time I laid eyes on her work, and now here we are.”

That took Rayne off guard. She knew they would need to lie about her past, but she didn’t expect her teacher to concoct such a huge lie about her past and to feed it to two of her students so effortlessly.

“Ahhh, I see.” Remarked Cynthia, as if the whole thing made perfect sense, “You didn’t answer all of my questions though, what grade is Rayne? She looks younger than me and Ryan.”

“Yeah,” contributed Ryan, “And I’m still interested as to what mediums she prefers.”

“Well, times ticking away,” Ms. Mira said, glancing at her phone for the time, “So why don’t I go check us in, and I’ll let Rayne answer those herself.”

“Sounds fantastic!” Came Cynthia’s ever-excited voice.

Ryan just nodded.

Rayne giggled at how different the two were and found herself nodding as well.

“Alright then.” Ms. Mira said with a smile before turning and walking to the reception desk.

No sooner had she left then Cynthia turned to Rayne and asked, “So. Me first. What grade are you in and just how old ARE you?”

Ryan rolled his eyes again but didn’t object.

“Well I just started grade 9.” She began, “And I turned 14 over the summer.”

Rayne was starting to become more comfortable with the older kids. Cynthia’s energy took some getting used to, and at first Ryan had looked mean, but she now realized that they were both friendly and genuinely interested in getting to know her.

“You’re only 14?!” Cynthia exclaimed dramatically. Even Ryan’s eyebrows raised slightly.

“Umm, y-yes? Is that o-okay?” Rayne stammered nervously.

“Oh of course! It’s more than okay! It’s super impressive!” Cynthia reassured her excitedly.

“W-why is that?” Rayne asked, confused.

“It’s impressive,” Ryan began, “Because almost every student here is in the 12th grade. They’re only excepting the best student artists in the province. It’s hard to find a student in grade 11 who falls into that category. Let alone in the 9th or even the 10th grade.”

“T- the whole province?” Rayne asked nervously, suddenly becoming very self conscious. She looked around, realizing for the first time that all of the other students DID look older than her.

“Well, not the whole province.” Ryan clarified, “But the entire Vancouver area, which, when you take into account the fact that the majority of BCs population is located in Vancouver, might as well be the whole province.”

“You didn’t know the size of the competition?” Ryan asked sceptically.

“N-no. I thought it was just for students in Mountsview and the neighboring towns.” Rayne replied, wide eyed, “Great. And I was just getting over my terror.” She finished before giving a heavy sigh and slumping her head to look at her feet.

With a laugh, Cynthia pulled her into a hug, “Oh don’t you worry, we’ll be looking out for you. Isn’t that right Ryan?”

“Of course,” was his reply, “And I’ll start right now, by reminding you about personal space Cynthia.”

The older girl jumped back again. “Oh! Right! Sorry Rayne!”

Ryan shook his head, exasperated, while Rayne giggled.

“It’s okay, I don’t mind it. You actually kinda remind me of my big sister.” She said before blushing about what she had just said.

With a laugh, Cynthia said, “Oh, Well in that case!” before pulling the younger girl into another hug, causing her to giggle.

Ryan just rolled his eyes. “Girls.”

When Cynthia and Rayne broke apart he piped up, “So now can I get an answer to my question? What kind of materials do you like to use Rayne?”

Rayne put her finger to her chin, and looked up thoughtfully, “Well,” she began, “I guess I’d say… You’ll just have to wait and see!” She said teasingly, causing his jaw to drop halfway open in surprise, and Cynthia to burst into another round of laughter.

Ms. Mira chose that moment to make her return, smiling at the sight of her three students getting along so well.

“Shall we go get set up?” She asked, not surprised to be answered with three different yeses from three very different teenagers. One was loud and excited, another was nothing but a nod, and the third was so quiet it could barely be heard over the first.

~o~O~o~

A short time later they found the corner of the auditorium they had been assigned to. There was a total of 15 easels leaning against the wall. Five for each student, one for each of their pieces. Around them, other students were already getting set up. Some already were setup and had disappeared to go assess their competition.

Cynthia and Rayne went about setting up the easels for all three members of their group while Ms. Mira and Ryan went to collect their pieces.

A short time later they returned with two trolleys, all of their work carefully placed upon them. Each of the students went about setting up their displays, not paying any heed to what the others were doing next to them.

Rayne initially felt the waves of apprehension that Raymond always felt at the suggestion of sharing his art with others, but she pushed it down. Raymond WASN’T sharing his art. Rayne was. And Rayne was going to have the confidence in herself that Raymond never could.

After a few minutes, she stepped back and rested her hand in her chin, trying to decide if she had it set up the way she wanted. She had placed the five pieces in two rows, one row slightly above the other, but both around eye level for easy viewing.

The first piece – on the bottom left – was the one that had stated this whole thing. It was the drawing that depicted a sickly old man lying in a hospital bed, staring at the viewer. The whole thing was done in pencil and ink, finely detailed and shaded. The only color came from the man’s bright blue eyes and served to draw the viewers attention away from the doorway off to the side, where the figure of the grim reaper could be very faintly seen. Beneath the piece was a small title card that read ‘Patiently Waiting’ and underneath that ‘by Rayne Danahy’.

Upon seeing her last name, Rayne panicked – but only for a moment. She took a deep breath and thought about her dilemma. What would she say if Ryan or Cynthia noticed? Surely one or both of them knew either Evalyn or Sebastian. Rayne’s older siblings were pretty well known in their school. She thought back on what Evalyn had said earlier. That they were cousins. She could just go with that, but if either of them asked Sebastian then everything would fall apart.

“I’m overthinking this.” She mumbled quietly to herself, and just like that it was clear. If either of them happened to notice her last name and make the connection she would just claim she didn’t know them and that there was no relation. It was as easy as that. Taking another deep breath, she refocused on her display. That was what mattered right now.

On the top left was the second piece, entitled ‘Silently Stalking’. Done with a fine acrylic paint, it depicted a bright red sports car ripping down a highway. The hot rod itself had been painted with a fine eye for detail, whereas the environment around it was made to look blurry, enhancing the feeling that the hot rot was going faster than was considered safe. From the car’s exhaust billowed a small cloud of fumes, this was the only aspect that hadn’t been done with paint alone. Paint had been used to detail the car and blurry road beneath the smoke, but after it had dried, charcoal pencil had been used to draw on the fumes. The fumes themselves were not ordinary, but were instead shaped into a wispy skull, foreshadowing a lethal accident on the road.

The third piece was another painting, this one done in water color, and located in the middle of the bottom row. It portrayed a man leaning on the guardrail of a ship at sea during a rainy night. The man was looking up at the moon, oblivious to his surroundings, behind him, the shadowy figure of another passenger was creeping up behind him. Knife in hand. The moon itself was the brightest object in the piece, and it caused a reflection to appear in the water below the man, however the reflection did not show the man, but instead the face of death. Rayne called this piece ‘Standing in Judgment’.

The fourth piece was a colored pencil drawing, positioned on the right side of the top row. It again depicted a person in a hospital bed, however this was no old man, but a young child. They were lying in bed, large bags under their eyes, various machines and tubes connected all over their body, it was hard to say whether the child was a boy or a girl as their head was clean of hair. It didn’t take a genius to make the logical connection that the child portrayed had cancer. This piece was entitled ‘A Solemn Guardian’. The child was looking away from the viewer, and if one followed the child’s gaze, they would find the hooded figure of death faintly reflected in the window.

The final piece used a combination of several different mediums, and claimed the final spot in the bottom right. It depicted a young man, perhaps a teenager, standing on the roof of a building, his back to the viewers. Before him was a brightly lit city skyline beneath a starry night sky. The sky was done in water color, the city skyline in pencil and ink, and the building and young man in acrylic paint. Standing right next to the man was the shadowy figure of the grim reaper. ‘Bearing Witness’ was the name given to this piece.

“Incredible!” came Cynthia’s cheerful voice, drawing Rayne out of her thoughts.

“Oh! Um, you really think so?” Rayne squeaked, she hadn’t noticed the group approach.

She looked over to see Ryan, and Ms. Mira on her other side, admiring her work.

“Absolutely! It never even occurred to me to connect the pieces in my portfolio to each other!”, she elaborated, “It really adds to the collection as a whole!”

“I completely agree,” Ryan contributed, “and your use of mediums is so diverse, if it weren’t for the theme they all shared I wouldn’t even think they were done by the same person. It really shows off what you’re capable of. I’m actually kind of annoyed I didn’t think of it first.”

“W-what?” Rayne stammered, blushing at the compliments, “It’s really not that special. I’m sure your pieces are miles above mine!”

The group couldn’t help but smile at her humility.

“C’mon, show me!” Rayne said, grabbing Cynthia and Ryan’s hands and pulling them over to the next display. The two older students’ having a kind-hearted chuckle at her embarrassment.

The five pieces they now looked at was a series of still lifes portraying nature. One was of a waterfall in the mountains, another of a rainforest. A third depicted a sunny meadow, and another a pretty piece of farmland. The fifth painting Rayne recognized as the lake near her home. The vary lake that had given the town of Lakewood its name. One thing all the paintings had in common was the bright, vibrant colors, and the incredibly fine brush strokes used for detail.

“Wow!” Rayne said, truly impressed, “Those colors are so beautiful! And the attention to detail is incredible! These are amazing Cynthia!”

There was a short pause, Rayne turned to look at her companions, Ms. Mira and Cynthia were smiling and trying to hold back laughter, Ryan was pointedly avoiding looking at any of them.

“What?” Rayne asked, confused, “Do you disagree?”

“No, no. Not at all.” Cynthia explained, giggling, she continued, “I actually agree completely. I wish I could create paintings like this.”

Rayne’s brow furrowed, “Wait, these aren’t yours? Then… these are Ryan’s?!” she exclaimed in disbelief.

Now it was Ryan’s turn to blush. A welcome change for Rayne. He said nothing at first, just put his hands in his pockets and looked at the roof.

“But they’re all just so,” Rayne paused, at a loss for words. “colorful. And Ryan’s so,” She paused again, turning to look at the boy, who was still pointedly not meeting her gaze, before finishing flatly, “Not.”

Ms. Mira and Cynthia couldn’t hold it back any longer, they burst into laughter. Ryan just gave a heavy sigh and a characteristic eye roll.

“Sorry Rayne,” Ms. Mira explained, “It’s kind of an inside joke between the three of us.”

“You mean the two of you.” Ryan interrupted.

Ms. Mira ignored him and continued, “Ryan is always so sullen and quiet, and he dresses almost solely in plain dark clothes, but then he paints. And his paintings are the complete opposite in every way. They’re always so bright, and happy, and full of color!”

“I have never once claimed to dislike color.” Ryan said, defending himself. “I just dislike wearing it.” He finished lamely, looking away again.

“Sorry Ryan!” Rayne exclaimed, taking his hands in hers, “I think your paintings are absolutely beautiful! I hope I didn’t offend you by assuming they were Cynthia’s or by saying you’re not colorful.” Rayne gushed, genuinely concerned she may have unintentionally hurt Ryan’s feelings.

“That’s sweet of you to say.” He said, reassuring her, “But people say stuff like that all the time, that my work doesn’t fit my personality, and it doesn’t bother me. I know who I am, I know my style, and more importantly, I like them.”

“Wow.” Rayne said quietly, “You’re incredible!” she said, barely above a whisper, “I wish I could be half as self-assured and confident as you are.”

“Don’t stress it Rayne, you’ll figure it out.” He said gently, “Now, if you thought my work wasn’t fitting. Wait until you see Cynthia’s”

“Oh man, this is gonna be priceless.” Chipped in Cynthia gleefully, “C’mon!” she said, grabbing Rayne’s hand, “Let me show you MY masterpieces!”

Cynthia led Rayne over to the next display. When Rayne saw it, her jaw dropped.

For someone as cheerful as Cynthia, Rayne wasn’t expecting her work to be so… dark. All five pieces were done almost entirely in pencil, ink pen, and charcoal. Each piece was carefully shaded and carefully detailed.

Her first piece looked like a scene from a zombie apocalypse. People were running in fear from the lumbering forms of the zombies, except all of the zombies were wide eyed children. Pale and grotesque, but morbidly cute. They were chasing after the townsfolk. Trying to eat them. The second image was of an angel, but instead of feathery wings of light, her wings were made of bone, and she was chained to the ground. The third piece was of a face, but it wasn’t just a face. Cynthia had drawn it so it looked like a face covered by something, it made the illusion of a person pushing their face against a piece of paper, trying to break through, on either side there was also a hand, drawn in the same style, seemingly straining to break out of the drawing. Her fourth piece was the only one with any color. In the center of the page, slightly closer to the top, was a human heart, colored a bright red. Beneath the heart was a mountain of twisting, writhing zombies, skeletons, and other monsters. All of them clambering over each other, fighting, shoving, pushing, trying to reach the heart first. The final piece was of a massive battle, on one side there was an army of soldiers, knights, kindly looking wizards, and what Rayne imagined the heroes of the books she always read must look like. Opposite them was an army of monsters. There were orcs and goblins, imps and warlocks, zombies and other undead. Suspended in the air above the conflict, a massive demon and angel were locked in battle. The side of the angel was lightly shaded to look bright, whereas the demon’s side was shaded much more heavily to look dark.

Rayne didn’t know what to say. Ryan was exactly right. This was not even close to the kind of work she had been expecting from Cynthia. It was the complete opposite.

Ms. Mira laughed, Ryan smiled, and Cynthia looked ferociously proud of herself and her work.

“That’s our Cynical Cynthia for you.” Ms. Mira declared.

“These are incredible!” Rayne exclaimed, “How did you get away with doing these at school though? I was pushing the line by portraying the grim reaper in my work, but this goes soooooo past the line.”

Cynthia giggled at the younger girls’ reaction, “Well obviously, I just didn’t do these at school. I did them at home during my free time.” She said, as if that explained everything.

Ms. Mira elaborated further, “To be honest, I had never thought Cynthia was particularly gifted,” Rayne looked at her in disbelief, “but at the time I only ever saw the work she did in art class, it was only when I told the class about this event that she shared her private works with me.”

“Why? Wasn’t the work she did in class as good?” Rayne asked, trying to put the puzzle together.

Cynthia giggled and then explained, “In class I can never do the work I want to do. Because we’re in a catholic school, there’s a line we can’t really go pass without getting in trouble, right? Well I could never get inspired without passing that line, without inspiration I couldn’t put my heart into my work, and without that, the end results were less than great. I had no reason to share my private work with anyone, so I didn’t. Well, except for Ryan of course. He caught me sketching in math class one day and realized my real style was very different from what I produced in class.”

“I see.” Was all Rayne could say.

“Well,” Ms. Mira began, “It’s only 6 o’clock, the judges aren’t due in our section for another hour and a half, so why don’t we go look at some of the competition and then get some dinner?”

Rayne nodded eagerly. Her mind had been blown already, and she had only seen the displays of the other students from her own school.

~o~O~o~

It was 7:15 when they made it back to their displays. They had spent so long looking at the other displays that they hadn’t had time to grab dinner, not that Rayne was particularly hungry anyways. Her stomach was tied in knots and doing backflips from the nerves. She slumped down in the chair that each student had been provided with.

“What’s wrong Rayne?” asked Cynthia, sensing something was up.

“Everyone’s just sooooo talented.” Rayne said, “I feel like I don’t deserve to be here.” Rayne looked at her work. Compared to all the incredible pieces she had just seen; her own work was now looking rather shoddy to her.

“You’re half right.” Ryan said, having overheard her.

“No, she couldn’t be more wrong.” Cynthia bristled, misunderstanding and annoyed by their friend’s intrusion.

“Really?” He asked skeptically, raising an eyebrow, “You don’t think everyone hear is talented?”

Understanding dawned on Cynthia’s face, “Ooooooh. I see what you mean.”

Ryan shook his head and looked down at Rayne, in a gentle voice he said, “You’re right. All of the student’s in this room ARE incredibly gifted. They wouldn’t be here if they weren’t. But the same is true for you. If you didn’t deserve to be here, you wouldn’t be here. It’s as simple as that. They may be more experienced than you, but that’s to be expected. Most of them are 3 grades ahead of you. But you are just as talented, if not more talented to be here at such a young age.”

“R-Really?” Rayne said hesitantly.

“Of course!” cheered the ever-happy voice of Cynthia.

“Thanks guys.” Rayne said, “I needed that. I’ve never done anything like this before, and I’ve been so excited, but at the same time terrified, and you two have really helped.”

With a squeal, Cynthia pulled her into another hug, Ryan just smiled and nodded.

Ms. Mira walked up then, “The judges are right around the corner. There’s a small crowd of other students and teachers following along to hear their opinions. Are you all ready?” she asked the group, really only worried about one of them.

They all said yes in their own way, and soon, the judges were in sight. Everyone stood by their displays, patiently waiting as the judges critiqued other students. Rayne looked around, now that she was a bit calmer she noticed that she was hardly the only nervous student.

She listened and watched as the judges and their tagalongs grew ever closer. Before she knew it they were at Cynthia’s station, eyebrows raised in amusement at the bubbly cheerful girl with the dark cynical artwork. A short time later they were at Ryan’s display. She watched as he politely shook each of their hands before standing attentively, hands clasped comfortably behind his back.

She took a deep breath and released it in a long heavy sigh. She smoothed out her dress, and tried to adjust her glasses, settling for scratching her nose when she remembered her contacts. Her time had come. The judges approached her display, the spectators fanning out behind them.

“Hello.” The lead judge said, offering his hand, she took it tentatively, expecting the firm handshake men always gave to other men, she was instead surprised to find it to be quite gentle.

“My name is Bernardo Gyerdavard, but please, just call me Berny. These are my colleagues, Mrs. Gale Tanner, and Mr. Martin Smith.”

She shook each of their hands as they were offered.

“H-hello, p-pleased to meet you.” She said in a small voice, cursing herself inwardly for stuttering.

Berny smiled warmly before squinting down at the clip board he was carrying.

“Rayneh Danahy? Am I saying that right?” he looked at her expectantly.

“Um, n- no sir.” She squeaked, “Just R- Rayne sir. Like the weather.” She explained. Like the weather? Ugh. She felt like an idiot.

“Rayne,” he said warmly, “Relax. We’re just gonna have a little talk about you and your work.”

She took a deep breath and nodded.

“So,” Mr. Smith began, looking at his own papers, “I see here you’re only 14 years old, just starting grade 9. Is this correct?” he asked, looking up.

“O- oh, um, yes sir, Mr. Smith sir.” She said, before blushing over her blathering.

The man just smiled.

All of a sudden Rayne heard a snigger from the audience. Looking over she saw a girl she didn’t recognize looking at her and smirking nastily.

“Oh really?” Mrs. Tanner asked, clearly not aware of that, “So how do you feel being the youngest student in this whole event?”

Rayne was suddenly very aware of all the people looking at her. There were eyes everywhere. Oh God. What had he been thinking doing this. Raymond’s chest started to seize. He stopped breathing. His mind was going blank. Oh God. He was just a boy in a dress in front of a-

Stop.

You’re not Raymond. You’re Rayne. You can do this. Rayne forced the rising panic back down.

She was back in control.

“Terrified.” Rayne answered honestly.

The judges and the crowd chuckled.

“So, what can you tell us about your display?” Mrs. Taylor asked gently.

“It all started with a book I was reading,” Rayne began, the nervousness slowly leaving her voice as she spoke, “It occurred to me that all throughout literature, popular culture, religion, all over the place really, death is viewed as a negative force.” She explained, looking around, “and to an extent it makes sense for people to fear it, it’s the end of our life. No one knows what will happen next. But then I started thinking about the personification of death, the grim reaper if you will, who has appeared in various mythologies, in some way or another, around the world for hundreds of years.”

Rayne looked around, people were listening, although some looked confused.

“I began to wonder why death was so often portrayed as evil. Assuming Death was a real being, then why should be afraid of him or her? At the end of our lives, Death is there to help us move on. To guide our souls to whatever comes next. That’s what inspired my first piece, ‘Patiently Waiting’.”

She took a step to the side, placing herself directly in front of her second piece, and gestured to her first. Now she had their full attention.

“In ‘Patiently Waiting’ we see an old man, sick and dying. He knows Death will come eventually, but as he has lived a long life, he is not afraid. And sure enough, Death is patiently waiting for the man to join him.”

Rayne turned back to the audience.

“After I finished this, it occurred to me that not everyone is lucky enough to live long enough to die from old age, so I began to work on my second piece.” Stepping to the side so she was no longer directly in front of it, but in front of her third piece instead, Rayne gestured to her second piece.

“I call this ‘Silently Stalking’” she continued, “A young man and his friends are ripping down the highway, way beyond the speed limit, just enjoying the ride. But death follows close behind, he has no plans to kill them, no, they’ll do that themselves. But he will be there for them when they do.”

Continuing along, Rayne stepped out of the way of her third piece, before addressing the audience directly once again.

“It was after this piece that I stumbled across ‘The four manners of death’ A forensics concept used to classify death. I realized that the two pieces I just described for you each represented one of the four manners, those being ‘Natural Causes’ and ‘Accidental death’ respectively. This inspired me to create something for the last two manners of death, which brings me to my next piece.”

Rayne gestured to the painting of the ship murder. “This is ‘Standing in Judgment’, it depicts a man peacefully watching the moon and stars, moments before his murder. Death waits for the man to join him, just as he will wait for the killer when their time comes. Though I’d like to think he’ll be less welcoming at that time. This portrays the third manner of death, ‘homicide’.”

“It was at this point that I decided to revisit the first manner of death, I didn’t think a man dying of old age truly captured ‘natural causes’ as ‘natural causes’ refers to so much more. Such as terminal diseases.”

With that Rayne stepped out of the way once again, revealing the drawing of the cancer patient.

“This,” she said, looking around at the audience, “Is ‘A Solemn Guardian’, in my opinion it’s one of the more powerful pieces I’ve ever created, as who hasn’t lost someone to cancer? In ‘A Solemn Guardian’ we see a little girl, struggling with cancer. Her family isn’t ready to let her go, but both she and Death know her time is coming.”

Stepping to the side she introduced her final piece, “This is the last piece I have for you today, it depicts Death standing side by side with a young man. The man is aware of death’s presence, and grateful for it. I call it ‘Bearing Witness’”

She stood for a moment, looking at the multi-medium drawing, contemplating saying more. Finally, deciding that she’d spoken enough, she turned back to the judges.

“I’ve been working on these for almost a year now, before I even heard about this event, so I just want to say that regardless of how far I make it in this event, I cannot express enough how grateful I am for all of you taking the time to listen to me and look at my work. Thank you so very much.”

There was some small applause, drawing a blush from Rayne, something she was getting used too by now.

“I have to say,” began Berny, “I am incredibly impressed to see so much thought and symbolism put into a piece by a high school student, especially one as young as you.”

“I couldn’t have put it better myself,” added Mr. Smith, “I believe I know what you’ll say, but for the benefit of everyone present, what manner of death is portrayed in ‘Bearing Witness’?”

Rayne hesitated momentarily before speaking.

“It’s, uh, suicide sir.” She said solemnly.

“I thought as much.” He nodded slowly.

“You said that you believe ‘A Solemn Guardian’ is one of the most powerful pieces you’ve ever created,” said Mrs. Tanner, clicking her pen, “But I got the feeling that your fifth piece, ‘Bearing Witness’ was a lot more meaningful to you.”

Rayne hesitated for a moment.

“Um, well,” She stammered, before taking a deep breath and continuing confidently, “Let’s just say it reminds me of a very dark time in my life, and leave it at that.”

Berny nodded in understanding, “Well, thank you very much for sharing your work with us Rayne, I believe I am not alone in saying that I expect I have not seen the last of you.”

With that, each of the judges shook her hand again, before moving on to the next display.

Rayne had just enough time to take a deep breath and shake off the last of her nerves before she was dragged into a huge hug by Cynthia.

“Rayne that was incredible! No one else had such a great story to accompany their display!” She gushed excitedly.

“Stoooop,” Rayne groaned, “It wasn’t that great, it was all that I could do to not collapse.”

Ms. Mira and Ryan joined them. Ms. Mira had a tear in her eye, “You’re wrong Rayne, it WAS that great. It was beautiful. I didn’t know you were preparing anything like that.” Ryan just nodded in agreement.

“To be honest, I wasn’t” Rayne explained, “I was really scared and nervous at first, and I almost broke down, but then I…” Rayne trailed off, after a slight pause she continued, “I don’t know. It just pulled it together somehow and spoke from the heart.”

“Well it was beautiful.” Said Ms. Mira genuinely, “Now what do you kids say about getting some dinner?”

Rayne realized that now that her critique was over she was starving, with everyone in agreement they decided to pack up and grab a late dinner, before spending some more time exploring the showing, and then finally heading home.

~o~O~o~

The rest of the night seemed to fly by. Over dinner, Cynthia did ask about Rayne’s last name. As she planned, Rayne claimed no relation. Cynthia excepted this immediately, but Ryan stared at her oddly for a moment. He didn’t say anything though, and soon the conversation moved on. Before Rayne knew it, she was giving Cynthia, Ms. Mira, and even Ryan a hug goodbye. She exchanged phone numbers with the other student’s so they could keep in touch, and left to meet her sister.

When Evalyn pulled up, Rayne hopped into her car excitedly. She couldn’t wait to tell her everything, she barely even said ‘Hello’ before she exploded. Evalyn just listened happily as Rayne gushed about how well it had gone.

Finally, Rayne collapsed back into her seat. Exhausted.

“Don’t relax yet,” Evalyn teased, now that Rayne was done her story, “You need to be Raymond again by the time we get home. There’s makeup wipes in my purse, and a bag of clothes in the back. Start changing while I drive. You can leave the panties and bra on until we get home, but everything else needs to be all Raymond by then.”

Nodding, Rayne began following her sisters instructions, wiping off the little bit of makeup she had been wearing, and then struggling to change clothes in a moving vehicle.

Before she knew it, she was Raymond once more. All of the clothes Rayne had worn, except for the lingerie, was stuffed into the bag, and soon, they were arriving home.

They were walking in the door when Evalyn noticed that Ray was still wearing the clipon earrings, she quickly reached up and pulled them off as their Mom walked into the room and ushered them into the living room where the family was waiting.

“Soooooooo, tell us about your date!” His Mom said excitedly.

His father and Sebastian were also clearly eager to know how it had gone.

“O-oh, uhh, it really wasn’t anything special.” He said trying to play it down. “We really just hung out for a bit and then went to the movies.”

“C’mon son!” Jameson pitched in, “It was your first date! Of course, it was special! What was her name?”

“Uhhh,” he said, trying to collect his thoughts, his first thought was to say Rayne, but he couldn’t say that. “Cynthia.”

It was technically the truth.

After some more awkward grilling by his family, he finally managed to escape to his room. As he closed the door he let out a heavy sigh and went to sit down. Moments later he crashed, exhausted from the long exciting day.

~o~O~o~

The next morning, thankfully a Saturday, Raymond woke up around 10 o’clock. He desperately needed to use the washroom. After doing his business he quickly showered, then, after getting out, he looked into the mirror.

That was all it took. The prison door slammed shut. The sense of wrongness came rushing back, stronger than ever. He was struggling to breath. His skin itched. He wanted to rip it off. Tears started pouring down his face. He was trapped. He was back in the box, and it was smaller than ever.

Raymond ran back to his room, closed the door behind him, threw himself into his bed, and sobbed.

How could he go back to living as miserable Raymond after the freedom he felt as Rayne?

 



 

Greetings and salutations.

Flummox here.

I'm so sorry for the long wait for this chapter. I won't try and make excuses.

Life just gets in the way sometimes, ya know? The last several weeks have been very busy at work, and a bit stressful. On top of that, I've been having a hard time contacting my proof reader, so I had to take a step back and edit this chapter completely by myself. I did my best, but I'm sure I missed some errors, and I'm so sorry if the quality suffered because of it.

I just realized that after saying I wouldn't make excuses, that I went ahead and made excuses. Oops.

Anyways, in the future, if there's going to be delays, I'll make one of those blog post thingys saying why. I thought about doing it for this chapter, since I literally just said in the last chapter that I'd be posting every week, but I didn't know if anyone would see it.

I really hate disappointing you all. Especially after how kind you've been to me. I'm gonna try and post an extra chapter this week or next to make it up to you, although I seem to be really bad at following through with what I say. I honestly don't understand why I have so much trouble posting on time. Like I've said before, I have quite a bit more written, it's just a matter of editing it. It frustrates me that I can never seem to get that done on time.

Anyways, as usual, if you liked it, please leave me a message or a comment. It may take me a few days, but I've been trying to respond to every message and comment I receive.

I hope you enjoyed this chapter and will continue to be patient with me.

Flummox.



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