A Blank Page - Chapter 8

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A Blank Page

By Flummox


The rest of the day proved uneventful for Raymond. He went to his classes – at least physically – His mind, however, was a different story. He couldn’t stop thinking about what Ms. Reid had said. Was Rayne just his ‘crutch’? What would he do if Rayne began to experience the same severe anxiety as Raymond? Could Raymond cope? Could Rayne Cope? Rayne’s entire existence – at least initially – had been intended to help Raymond deal with his insecurities, shyness, and anxiety. Rayne might not have the same anxieties or insecurities that he did, but she sure as hell had the shyness. Then again, maybe the shyness was just Raymond’s fear of being found out? Maybe that would go away with time?

GAH.

Why did everything have to be so damn complicated and confusing?

Raymond’s phone buzzed, drawing him from his thoughts. Ray rapidly entered his password when he saw it was a text from bunny. His friend hadn’t been online much recently. Too busy getting everything ready for the move Ray theorized. He read the message.

What r u doing this weekend?

That brought a smile to Ray’s face, looks like his friend would finally have a chance to get online for some gaming. He had missed their gaming sessions. Ray typed up a reply.

I might be busy Friday night. But Saturday I’m free all day.

He sent the message and headed up to his room to get started on his homework. Since school had just started three weeks ago, he didn’t have a lot of homework to do. Even so, he didn’t want to fall behind again. He wanted his family to have a reason to be proud of him. For once. His phone buzzed again, indicating another message.

Oooh what r u up 2? Got a hawt date?

Ray laughed out loud. He had mentioned the art gallery to Bunny over the summer. Bunny hadn’t known Ray was into art at the time, but thought it was really cool when Ray told him. He had encouraged Ray to enter, and Ray had said he’d consider it. He hadn’t told him yet that he had, Bunny had a lot on his plate at the moment and it hadn’t come up in conversation. Now that Bunny was asking Ray didn’t see a reason not to share.

Remember that ‘talented youth’ art gallery event I mentioned during the summer? Well I entered. I’ve made it past the first round of eliminations. If I make it past the second, then I’ll have a showing Friday night.

Ray continued to study, until a short time later came the reply he was expecting. Ray finished the problem he had been working on before picking up his phone.

:O Thats incredible! Why didnt u tell me? Whats the name of the art gallery? Maybe I can see ur work online?

Ray smiled at his friends’ excitement.

Lol, I doubt that Bunny. If you could look at the art online wouldn’t it defeat the point of the gallery? Either way, it’s called the Mountsview Art Gallery.

Ray received a response almost immediately, but he forced himself to complete a few problems before looking. There were three messages.

Lol I guess ur rite. But it doesnt hurt 2 try!

The second message had come through a few minutes later. Almost as if Bunny had hesitated to send it.

I kno this is a bit weird but may I ask 4 ur real name? In the off chance the gallery has pictures posted online Id like 2 be able 2 find urs.

The third message had come in seconds after the first.

Pictures of ur art I mean. Not u. we’ll meet in person soon enough.

Ray sat back in his chair and thought hard for several minutes. Was he comfortable giving his name to someone he only knew online? What if all the cautionary tales he had heard about creepy old men masquerading online as teenagers to abduct children happened to him? He quickly shot that idea down. He had known Bunny for years, if he wasn’t who he said he was, then he was the most patient creep ever. He had never once asked for Raymond’s name before, why start now if his motives weren’t pure? The final factor that influenced Ray’s decision was that he wouldn’t be giving his real name, he’d be giving Rayne’s name. That was the name he had entered under after all. Finally, he typed up a message.

I would rather wait to exchange real names in person, but you’re in luck! I actually entered the competition under an alias, and I’d be happy to share that with you.

Ray sat and waited for the reply. It didn’t take long.

Lol an alias? What r u? A spy? Lol XP Sure what is it?

Ray rolled his eyes at Bunny’s sarcastic message.

Rayne Danahy. Now I need to get this homework done, so have a good night. We’ll talk on Saturday right?

Bunny’s last reply for the night rolled in a moment later.

LOL! Rayne. Like the weather! Yeah we’ll talk Saturday at the l8est. Night Rayny.

Ray rolled his eyes again at the comment before returning to his studies.
 

~o~O~o~

 
The rest of the night passed quietly, Ray finished his homework and went for his daily run with Sebastian; they had moved up to jogging for a full hour. Ray felt like he didn’t really need to keep jogging regularly anymore, but he had come to enjoy the time with his older brother. When they got home they had a quiet family dinner, after which Ray announced he was heading to his room for the night – or at least he tried to. Evalyn followed him up the stairs and pulled him into her room.

Closing the door behind her she led him to the bed where they sat down side by side.

“So?” she asked, “You spoke to Ms. Reid?”

Ray nodded.

Dissatisfied, Evelyn raised an eyebrow and motioned for Ray to go on, “Well?”

“I dunno Eva. We just talked and stuff.”

“I received a note, requesting me in her office at lunch tomorrow.” Evalyn explained, “I need to have some idea what I’m walking into.”

“Ugh,” Ray groaned, “She said she wanted to talk to you, I just wasn’t expecting her to be so gung-ho.”

Evalyn smiled, “Okay, now spill. What did you guys talk about? Was she nice?”

“She was kinda intimidating at first.” Ray said, “I actually think she was getting ready to kick me out.”

Evalyn’s eyes narrowed, hearing that confession didn’t make her happy.

It always touched Raymond’s heart to see his sister being so protective.

He went on to tell her the whole story. He briefly mentioned the different topics they had discussed, and what he had said in response to her questions – at least the parts he could remember, anyway. When he finished Evalyn lay back on her bed and looked at the roof thoughtfully.

“Geeze, when you put it that way it kinda does sound like I forced it on you.”

Ray laid back next to her, “Yeah maybe, but I’m glad you did.”
 

~o~O~o~

 
The next day was beautiful – or at least Raymond thought so. Some people might disagree. The sky was filled with dark clouds, and around lunch a heavy rain began to fall. Ray ate his lunch by a window near the art room, just staring at the rain. It was so peaceful. Not for the first time, he thought about how lucky he was to live somewhere where it rained so frequently. He was drawn from his serenity by a familiar voice from the art room.

“You still don’t know?! How can you not know yet? The suspense is KILLING me.”

Ray looked into the art room to see Cynthia. She was having a discussion with Ms. Mira, a discussion Ray could only assume was about the art competition. Ryan stood next to her. A smug smirk on his face.

“I told you Cynthia. They said the results would be in on Wednesday at the latest, it’s not Wednesday yet.”

“Oh, Fine.” Cynthia pouted, “Let’s just go eat.” She looked around, spotting Raymond’s table. “Think that boy would mind if we sat with him?” She asked Ryan.

“Only one way to find out,” Ryan said, “Go ask him.”

Ms. Mira chuckled and gave Ray a knowing smile, “I happen to know that boy quite well,” she said, “He’s one of the 9th grade art students. He’s friendly, but a bit shy. I’m sure he wouldn’t mind.”

Ryan smiled, “Reminds me of someone else we know.”

He had no clue how right he was.

Cynthia and Ryan turned and walked in his direction. When they were no longer facing her, Ms. Mira shot Ray a wink.

“Would you mind if we joined you?” Cynthia asked cheerfully.

“Uh, sure I guess.” Was all Ray could say.

Ryan and Cynthia went about eating their lunches, chatting away about their classes. Or at least Cynthia chatted. Ryan just nodded every now and again. Ray just went back to watching the rain, enjoying the background noise that was Cynthia’s constant chatter.

Eventually he became aware that she had been staring at him for some time.

He turned to look at her, “W- Why are you staring at me?” He managed to ask.

“OH!” Cynthia blushed, “Sorry I didn’t mean to make you uncomfortable, you just look kinda familiar, but I just can’t quite place it.”

Ryan’s eyebrow scrunched together at the comment.

“W- weird.” Ray said, suddenly aware of how risky this lunch was. He returned to his rain watching.

“May I ask what YOU’RE staring at?” She asked.

“Me?” Ray said, confused, “I’m not staring at anything. I’m just watching the rain.”

“The rain?” Ryan asked, his curiosity piqued.

“Yeah” Ray said, not moving his gaze from the showers outside, “For as long as I can remember I’ve always found a rainstorm to be incredibly calming.”

The two older students didn’t say anything. For a few minutes the three of them just sat and watched the rain. Ryan and Cynthia trying to see it as Ray did.

“Guess what I just received.” Ms. Mira said, holding up a piece of paper and breaking each of them out of their individual thoughts.

Cynthia gasped, and leapt from her seat – sending it skittering away behind her.

“The results?!” She exclaimed over-excitedly.

Ryan didn’t quite have the same reaction, but he did sit up noticeably straighter.

Ray looked back to the storm outside, trying to hide his own excitement and feign disinterest.

“The results.” Ms. Mira confirmed.

Both Ryan and Cynthia looked at her expectantly.

“After much deliberation,” Ms. Mira read theatrically, “we have decided that the students Ryan Deartz, and Cynthia Gnoll-”

She paused dramatically and looked between Ryan and Cynthia.

“Shall be accepted into the second showing.”

Cynthia squealed with joy, Ryan just nodded and gave a small fist pump.

“What about Rayne?” Cynthia quickly asked, getting over her own excitement.

Raymond’s heart began to beat faster.

Ms. Mira shook her head. “C’mon Cynthia, I can’t tell you her results before she even knows.”

“Please Ms. Mira! I could text them to her!”

“Not happening.” Ms. Mira said sternly, “You won’t sway me on this Cynthia. It would be unprofessional and disrespectful to tell you before her.”

With a heavy sigh, Cynthia gave up, “Fine, but you tell her to text me the moment she knows!”

Lunch ended soon, and Cynthia and Ryan said goodbye to Raymond and disappeared down the hall. As soon as they were out of sight Raymond jumped up and rushed into the art room. He had art next anyways so he didn’t have to worry about being late.

“Well?” he asked Ms. Mira. The two of them were alone in the room together.

“Well what?” she asked, feigning ignorance.

“C’mon Ms. Mira,” Ray whined, “I’ve already had to wait long enough haven’t I?”

“Ms. Mira nodded slowly, a sad frown slowly forming.

“I’m so sorry Raymond,” she said, gently putting a hand on his shoulder, “But you didn’t make it.”

“O- oh.” He said, trying to hide his disappointment “That’s fine I guess. I wasn’t expecting to make it far with there being so much talent.” He slowly turned to walk over to one of the work tables.

“It’s okay Raymond,” she said comfortingly, “you might not have made it, but take solace in knowing that Rayne did.”

Raymond whipped around, jaw dropping in disbelief.

Ms. Mira howled with laughter.

“Ms. Mira! You are SO mean.”

She just laughed harder.

Ray ripped out his phone and sent a quick message to Cynthia and Ryan.

I MADE IT TO THE SECOND SHOWING!!!

He sent another message to both Evalyn and Bunny, saying basically the same thing.

He received four congratulatory messages a few minutes later. He sent his own congratulations to Cynthia and Ryan when they announced their own success as well.

Art class went smoothly. Ms. Mira told the class about the success of the senior student’s in the competition, and a few students asked to see a sample of their work. Ms. Mira obliged with one of Ryan’s paintings. She wouldn’t show them any of Cynthia’s however, as anything that would do her skill justice would be likely be deemed inappropriate for the catholic school.

Before Ray knew it, the day was over and he was heading home.
 

~o~O~o~

 
He and his sister had another talk that night. For once he was the one instigating it.

“So how did it go with Ms. Reid today?” he asked when they were alone in her room.

“It was fine,” She said, “She asked about me. Then about you. Then about me AND you.”

Ray looked at her expectantly, “Well? What else?”

“What else is there Ray?” She asked, “It was just like she said. She just wanted to make sure this was actually coming from you, and not me pressuring you.”

“And?” Ray pushed, “Did you convince her?”

“I don’t know, Ray. You just gotta relax, Squirt.” She took his hand in hers, “Whatever she decided I’m sure you’ll find out on Monday. Just focus on getting ready for the second showing for now.”

Ray nodded slowly. She was right. He had something else to focus on right now.
 

~o~O~o~

 
Wednesday and Thursday went by quickly, Raymond focused on his classes and enjoyed throwing himself at his studies. With Mr. McMan suspended he was even enjoying gym class. They had a substitute for the time being. He seemed friendly and encouraged the class better than Mr. McMan ever had.

Finally, Friday rolled around. He and his sister agreed on the same plan as the previous week. Meet at the art room after class, go to the locker rooms and get ready, then go meet Ms. Mira.

After what seemed like an eternity, every trace of Raymond was gone. Rayne emerged from the changeroom accompanied by Evalyn.

Today Rayne was wearing the outfit her sister had picked out for her on their girl’s day the previous weekend. She wore the simple white lingerie with the plain black leggings, a simple white blouse, and the big sweater that came down to her midthigh and completely hid her hands. Enjoying the comfort the sweater provided, Rayne hadn’t even rolled up the sleeves. There was no need to yet so she might as well embrace the coziness is provided. The sweater was left undone at the top so the blouse could peek out. Evalyn had applied some light makeup, which had prompted Rayne to ask for a lesson in the future. On her feet, she wore a pretty pair of brown boots with some simple patterns stitched in. She wore her long hair loose today, spilling over her shoulder and down her chest. Once again, she had put in her contacts at Evalyn’s recommendation. She doubted they really made much of a difference to her appearance, but Evalyn hadn’t been wrong so far.

“You ready?” Evalyn asked as they walked down the hall.

“More then ever.” Was Rayne’s reply.

Soon they were walking across the field, headed to the parking lot where Ms. Mira stood waiting next to her car.

Today was the first football game, and the entire football team – Sebastian included – was outside, getting ready. Evalyn had ensured Rayne that they’d be too busy to take notice of the girls, but Rayne was afraid none the less. If anyone was going to make the connection between Raymond and Rayne it would be Sebastian. Thankfully, Evalyn was right. The most attention they received was a cheerful wave from Jackson. Evalyn waved back of course, but Rayne only managed a smile.
 

~o~O~o~

 
Across the field, Jackson went back to what he was doing. Sebastian walked up then, and Jackson couldn’t help but ask, “Hey man, I just gotta say, your little cousin is super cute. Would it be weird for me to ask for her number?”

Sebastian’s brow furrowed in confusion, “Wha? Who are you talking about? Mackenzie?”

Now it was Jackson’s turn to be confused, “No, Evalyn introduced us last week. I think her name was Rayne? Sweet, shy girl?”

Sebastian shook his head, “I think you’re getting people mixed up bro. I don’t know anyone named Rayne, and the only girl cousins I have on this side of the country are a 5-year-old, and Mackenzie, who’s the complete opposite of sweet and shy.”

“No, I know I’m not getting people mixed up man.”

Sebastian looked at him sceptically.

“I’m not!” Jackson said adamantly, “How could I get your sister confused? She kinda stands out. Your whole family does. Besides, I just saw her and Rayne together a few minutes a go.”

“Oh really?” Sebastian asked, clearly not convinced, “Where?”

“Right there.” Jackson said confidently, turning to point at the teachers parking lot.

Sebastian sighed sceptically and turned to look, but he was surprised to see that Jackson was right. Evalyn stood at the edge of the parking lot, waving farewell to one of the departing vehicles.

“See?” Jackson asked.

Sebastian’s brow furrowed in confusion. “Yeah. I do.”
 

~o~O~o~

 
Rayne and Ms. Mira zoomed down the highway headed towards Mountsview. Rayne’s heart was hammering with excitement.

“So, will the judges be the same? How will this showing be different?” She asked, trying to prepare herself as best she could.

“I’m really not sure about the judges.” Ms. Mira began, “But you can expect their questions to be more technical than last time. They won’t just be asking you to explain your display, they may have specific questions about the individual pieces.”

Rayne nodded thoughtfully. “I hope the judges are the same. Berny really made me feel comfortable talking.”

Ms. Mira nodded in understanding, “That man has been around for a long time. He’s always been a huge voice for youth in the arts.”

Rayne spent the rest of the drive contemplating her work and thinking about possible questions she may have to answer.
 

~o~O~o~

 
“RAYNE!”

That was all the warning she received before being slammed with what she couldn’t be sure was a hug or a tackle.

“Ooof” Rayne grunted, before giggling and hugging her back.

“Ohmygosh that outfit is so cute!” Cynthia gushed.

Rayne just blushed before nodding a small thanks.

Ryan just shook his head, “Girls.” He mumbled with a roll of his eyes.

Ms. Mira checked them in as the girls chattered. ‘Chattered’ meaning that Cynthia talked and Rayne just quietly listened, smiling the whole while.

As they walked to the area that had been assigned to them, Ms. Mira began to explain some of the details of the showing and how it would differ from the previous week.

“This is the last stage that will take place in the convention center,” she explained, “That means that if you guys make it though to the next round you’ll be in the actual gallery! There are a total of 50 student’s in the running at this stage, but that number will be halved after tonight. Because there’s a lot more room to be shared among the participants, they’re also allowing the general public to come see the displays this time around. That means you can expect all sorts of people to be looking at your work, and you will in turn be expected to stay nearby your display. Obviously, you’ll be able to step away to use the washroom, get refreshments, or attend to anything else that may need your immediate attention – but you’ll need to cover for each other when you do. Does everyone understand?”

“Absolutely!” Came the upbeat voice from Cynthia.

Ryan gave his customary confidant nod.

“Yes Ms. Mira.” Rayne quietly replied, giving a small nod of her own.

Just as they did the previous week, Cynthia and Rayne went about setting up their easels while Ryan and Ms. Mira went to retrieve their pieces from storage.

After lining her own stands up, Rayne went over to start arranging Ryan’s for him, doing her best to imitate how they had been set up last week.

“Hey, thanks Rayne,” Ryan said when he returned, “I can take it from here though.”

“No problem.” She said with a smile, returning to her own display.

The three students went about preparing their respective displays. Once they were ready they stood around talking until a tall man in a suit came around the corner.

“Hi Berny!” Rayne said excitedly, unable to hide her happiness that the old man was there, then immediately afterwards blushing and embarrassed by her excitement.

Berny laughed kindly at the girl’s excitement, and pretended not to take notice of her embarrassment. “Hello Rayne, it’s good to see you. Are you ready for tonight?”

“Uhh, I’m not really sure. I’ve always had issues with crowds. To be honest, part of my motivation to enter this event was to try and get over my shyness.” She looked at her feet, suddenly ashamed to have admitted her motive for entering. This event was supposed to be about talented youth and their artwork. Not about her personal issues.

“Rayne.” Berny waited for her to meet his gaze. When she did, he continued warmly, “There’s nothing wrong with that. I am truly thankful that you shared your work with me. Just promise me you’ll do your best alright?”

“I’ll give it my all.” She said with as much strength as she could muster.

“Wonderful. If you do that, then no matter how far you go, you won’t be disappointed.”

Rayne smiled at his encouragement.

“Now.” He continued, “I need to be moving along, I was just coming around to let everyone know that the doors will be opening to the public at 6 o’clock. After that, we request that all of our young artist stay with their displays to answer any questions the public might have. The judges will be visiting this section around quarter to 7, so be ready. While you wait, I have some questions you may want to think about. What made you choose the medium’s you used? Do you believe you could have achieved similar results with different mediums? Do you have any favored mediums? What process do you follow to create your work?”

He took a long meaningful look at each of the students in their area, making sure to make eye contact with each one of them.

“I wish each of you the best of luck, it has been a blessing getting to meet each of you.”

With that he continued to the next area.

Rayne spent the last few minutes of free time talking with Cynthia and Ryan. Some of the students from the neighboring exhibits even joined in. It didn’t take long for Rayne to begin to feel uncomfortable. It was just a casual conversation, but all the other students were 3 or 4 years older than her. When the conversation moved past art, she was completely out of her depth. Cynthia and the girls started talking about clothes and boys. Rayne didn’t have enough experience with clothes to really participate in that, and her experiences with boys were even fewer. That brought up a scary line of thought, was Rayne attracted to boys? Raymond had always had too much on his mind to really think much about it.

Rayne pushed the thoughts away. Now wasn’t the time to start freaking herself out. She turned her attention to what Ryan and half the other boys were talking about. Sports. Ugh. Rayne hadn’t taken Ryan to be into sports. Just one more reason not to judge a book by its cover she figured. The few remaining boys had begun talking about video games. There. That’s where she would be in her element. She took a step towards them. Hesitation. She didn’t know any of them. How could she just jump into their conversation? Raymond wouldn’t have had the nerve to do it. They were all guys too. It would be so awkward for her to just join in on a bunch of boys’ conversation. If only Ryan was in that crowd instead. She wouldn’t be struggling so much if she at least knew someone. Crap. She had hesitated to long. They had noticed her. Now they were just staring at her as she must have been staring at them.

“Uh, umm, H-hi?” She squeaked nervously.

“Why were you staring at us?” One of the boys asked flatly.

Rayne was totally caught off guard. She had not been expecting them to be so upfront.

“Oh! W- well, Umm, I w- was, I just, uh.” She blabbered and stuttered, desperately trying to get her act together.

Now the boys were looking at her like she was crazy. One tilted his head and raised an eyebrow. Another had his hands on his hips and an annoyed glare on his face. The third looked completely uninterested.

Rayne blushed furiously and buried her face in the sleeves of the big sweater. When she removed them the three boys were still looking at her, they just looked more confused, annoyed, and bored respectively.

“I w- was just wondering what g- game you were t- talking about.” She finally blurted, before covering her face once again looking at the floor.

There was a long silence between them. Rayne finally looked back up.

“We were talking about Borderlands: the Pre-Sequel.” Answered the boy who had first spoken. The three turned away from her, clearly expecting the encounter to end there.

Rayne gasped. Her luck had finally changed. Borderlands: the Pre-Sequel was from the same series of games Raymond always played with Bunny. While it was the third game in the series, it was both a sequel to the original Borderlands game, and a prequel to Borderlands 2, hence the funny title.

“I thought it was good,” she piped up, gaining confidence, “But it just couldn’t compare to the masterpiece that was Borderlands 2.”

The three boys’ heads whipped back around to look at the girl in shock. The blush rushed back to her face.

“S- Sorry.” She said, suddenly really self-conscious, “I didn’t mean to intrude on your conversation. I’ll leave you alone now.”

“Wait, you said you thought it was GOOD?!” the boy who had given her the glare exclaimed, “It was WAY to short. It was basically just glorified dlc. Did you even really play it?” He finished sceptically.

Rayne’s jaw dropped. “I happen to be a level 70 Claptrap in the game.” She said indignantly. “If you were listening, I said that it was good. And I meant it. As a stand alone game it WAS good. As part of the overarching series, however, it couldn’t compare.”

“Pfft, clearly you don’t know what you’re talking about if you play Claptrap.” The boy said, ignoring her reasonable argument, “That character is just a joke. He’s garbage.”

Claptrap was one of the 6 playable characters in the game, and 70 was the highest level one could reach. Claptrap was a silly little robot who was constantly being made fun of by the other characters. Raymond had always loved the character, possibly because he could relate.

“What?! Clappy isn’t a joke! He’s silly and cute.” Rayne said defensively, referring to the character by his nickname. “And how can you say he’s garbage?! Throw 5 points into his ‘One Last Thing’ skill, give him a good shotgun, and he shreds every enemy in the game! Even the Eclipse! Maybe YOU’RE the one who hasn’t played the game.”

Three jaws dropped at her counter. Any remaining doubts that she knew what she was talking about were gone. Eclipse was the hardest boss in the game. It was notoriously difficult, and had been a point of outrage for many players when it was added to the game. Usually it was near impossible to beat without a teammate, but the boss was programmed to get much harder when there was more then one player. It was a ‘damned if you do, damned if you don’t’ kind of situation. The best solution was usually to go into the fight with a full party of four players.

Soon she was fully accepted into the conversation and, her shyness and embarrassment forgotten, the four of them were geeking out. Talking about various games, what they hated in a game, what the loved in a game, and so on. There were a few times where the few year age difference between her and the boys caused a game to come up that she either hadn’t heard of or played, but when that happened the boys would quickly notice her sudden silence and steer it back into her realm of expertise. Rayne wasn’t sure, but she could have sworn the three boys were giving her more attention then each other.

Before they knew it, a bell rang through the auditorium signaling the opening of the doors. The boys, whose names she had learned to be Josh, Bill, and Samuel, each asked for her phone number as she turned to return to her display. Suddenly uncomfortable, Rayne didn’t really know what to say.

“J-just to talk about games!” Josh quickly explained, noting her unease, “Won’t make any weird requests. Right guys?” he asked elbowing the boys on either side of him.

They both nodded and stammered an affirmative.

“Ummm, O- okay I guess.” Rayne agreed, a bit reluctantly. She told them her number and they entered her into their contacts. With a final goodbye, and a promise to talk more later, each of the boys returned to their displays, and Rayne returned to hers.

Soon people were mulling about the convention center, looking at the pieces. Each of the students had been provided with a folding chair so Rayne mostly remained seated, standing whenever someone came to look at her work. She did her best to answer any questions they had, which could really be anything. The range of people present was wide. Some were seniors, others just parents with kids. Some teenagers had come, but they were few and far between.

It was after about half an hour that Rayne noticed one of the teenagers staring in her direction from a short distance away.

He was of above average height, with short black hair. He was of Asian descent, and wore a pair of black jeans with white shoes, a white shirt, and a dark blue hooded jacket.

Every once in a while, he would move along, just to come back and stare from a different position. It was beginning to make Rayne uncomfortable. This was mainly because she had the feeling he wasn’t staring at her work, but at her. She tried to push it out of her mind and focus on thinking of answers to the questions Berny had posed.

Finally, after what seemed to be an eternity, the judges made it to her display. Rayne’s heart sunk when she saw that Berny wasn’t with them today. In fact, the only judge that was the same as last week was Mr. Smith. He had seemed nice enough, but Rayne would have just felt better if Berny’s encouraging smile had been present during her critique. She couldn’t help but notice that the boy who had been staring at her for the last hour was now part of the crowd following along to hear the judges’ opinions.

Mr. Smith took the lead, “Hello again Rayne. How are you today?”

“Uh, I’m doing okay I guess.” She replied nervously.

“I’m glad to hear that. I’m sure you remember me from last week, but just in case you don’t, I’m Mr. Smith,” he gestured behind him to the two people Rayne could only assume were the other judges, “These are my esteemed collogues, Ms. Jacklyn Ferguson, and Dr. George Malone.”

She shook both of their hands, “It’s a pleasure to meet you Ms. Ferguson, and you Mr. Malone”

Ms. Ferguson smiled sweetly, “Please, call me Jackie.”

Unfortunately, Dr. Malone wasn’t quite as friendly, “That’s DOCTOR Malone.” He corrected sternly, before muttering quietly to himself, “Kids these days. Can’t even get a name right.”

The other two judges gave him a dirty look, but the damage had already been done. Rayne was fighting back the waves of terror, and they hadn’t even begun the discussion yet.

“Rayne.” She turned to look wide-eyed at Mr. Smith, “Shall we get started?” he asked gently.

She swallowed nervously, “O-okay.” She squeaked.

Jackie smiled sympathetically, “We’re just going to ask you a few questions about your work, okay?”

Rayne just nodded.

Mr. Smith opened the discussion with the first question, “So Rayne, in your first piece, ‘Patiently Waiting’, you used graphite pencil, black ink pen, and a colored pencil, correct?” At Rayne’s nod he continued, “Using these three mediums you captured a very interesting image, had you chosen different mediums would you have been able to achieve something similar?”

Rayne spoke slowly, making a conscious effort not to stutter or say ‘um’ too many times.

“No sir, I would not have been able to.” She hesitated, “Can I tell you why?”

Mr. Smith nodded for her to go on.

“I specifically chose the mediums I did to-

“Speak up girl! I can barely hear you!” Interrupted Dr. Malone.

Rayne face went white as a ghost, she started over from the beginning, speaking a bit louder.

“I sp- specifically ch- chose the m- mediums I did to capture this l- look. The figure of the g- grim reaper in the d- d- doorway was made by first drawing it in ink, th- then c- covering it with a layer of dark l- lead. The end result is the th- the grim reaper is b- barely vis- visible. S- secondly, the fine t- tips of the pencils and p- pen allowed me to inc- incorpor- to add details I wouldn’t have oth- otherwise. The whole idea behind the p- piece was that the v- viewer’s eyes would be, uh, drawn, uh, away from the grim reaper, and th- that it would be easy to m- miss if one wasn’t l- looking for it. The only m- medium that could be s- swapped out w- would be the blue pencil b- because it’s j- just there to catch t- the eyes.”

Rayne finished her explanation, blushing furiously over her stutter.

She looked away from her piece and back up at the judges, the pity all over their faces just made her feel worse. This was going horribly. She resisted the urge to stare at her feet.

“Okay, Rayne,” Jackie said soothingly, “Do you have a favorite medium to work with?”

Rayne took a deep shaky breath. Letting it out she turned to look at her work.

“Th- that’s a hard question,” She said, regaining some small piece of her composure, “One I actually think about a l- lot since starting this project. Umm, I uh, I guess I’d have to say no. At this point in my life I can’t pick a f- favorite. Each one is just so good for certain things, and I love being able to draw on those strengths. But I also feel like that holds me back at times. F- for example, I feel like I’ll never be able to paint as beautifully as my friend Ryan over there,” she gestured to Ryan’s display next to her, “He specializes in his painting, and he can manage to create fine details with a brush that I never could, as I just don’t spend enough time working with paint and brushes. The same can be said about my friend Cynthia,” she explained, now gesturing to the display past Ryan’s, “She loves using pencils and ink more than anything else, and with them she can create textures and minute details that I can only dream of.”

At some point over the course of her answer, her confidence had returned.

Jackie nodded, but she had a small frown on her face as she did.

“Thank you, Rayne.” She said.

The last judge stepped forward. One last hurdle and she’d be done. She had already given up hope of making it through to the next round. How could they possibly let her through when all she had done was stutter and desperately try to hold back tears.

“Alright, girlie,” Began Dr. Malone.

Suddenly Cynthia’s voice, filled with sass and unbridled hostility, piped up from the sidelines, “Her name isn’t Girlie. It’s Rayne.”

All at once, the audience, judges, and all the students present swivelled to look at the girl. She wasn’t phased by this in the slightest, in fact it only seemed to egg her on.

“Senior citizens these days.” She continued, shaking her head as in in exasperation. “Can’t even get a name right.” She finished, imitating Dr. Malone’s remark from a few minutes earlier.

Rayne’s jaw dropped, and she’d swear, if her eyes could open any wider they’d pop out of her head.

Dr. Malone just wore a bemused smile. With a flick of her hair, Cynthia turned on her heel and returned to her own display.

Rayne just couldn’t take it anymore; the whole thing was just so ridiculous. She started to giggle. Slowly the audience and judges turned to look at her, bewildered looks on their faces. That just made her giggle harder. She threw her too long sleeves over her face and laughed into her hands. Finally regaining control of herself, she pulled away her hands. The judges and audience were all smiling at one another. At her. Some of them had started chuckling as well. Dr. Malone was clearly trying to look unimpressed by it all, but even he couldn’t completely mask the grin tugging at his mouth. Even the boy who had been staring and glaring at her all night was smiling.

Finally, after another moment, he resumed.

“May we continue now,” there was a short pause, “Rayne?”

Rayne smiled softly and nodded.

“Please tell me, what do you like about your pieces, about your personal style of art?”

What? That wasn’t on the list of questions Berny had warned them about.

Jackie and Mr. Smith’s heads jerked to look at him. Clearly this question wasn’t from the list they were supposed to be ask.

Jackie opened her mouth to say something, but Rayne beat her to it, not losing to inaction for once.

“That’s an interesting question.” She began confidently, “I guess I’d have to say I love the subtleties I work, or try to work, into my pieces. They don’t always workout how I’d like, but I love hiding things in my artwork, things that people might miss if they aren’t paying attention.”

She turned to look at her display. “That was a theme I tried to integrate heavily into this series. In each piece, the grim reaper, Death, is hiding somewhere in the picture. In ‘Patiently Waiting’ he’s hidden in the shadows, the viewers’ eyes drawn elsewhere. In ‘Silently Stalking’ he’s hidden in the fumes from the car. In ‘Standing in Judgment’ he’s reflected in the waves beneath the victim. And in ‘A Solemn Guardian’ he’s very faintly reflected in the window, the only clue to his presence being the child’s gaze. The only piece in the series where death isn’t hiding is in the final piece, ‘Bearing Witness’. That’s because ‘Bearing witness’ is meant to contrast with the other pieces. In all four of the other pieces, Death is looking for someone, but in ‘Bearing Witness’, someone is looking for Death.”

Everyone was quiet for a long moment, Rayne turned back to the judge’s and the audience, “The inspiration for ‘Bearing Witness’ was suicide, for anyone who was unsure.”

Dr. Malone nodded, “One last question, Rayne, before we end our discussion.”

Rayne nodded confidently.

“What would you say you dislike about your pieces and about your style of art?”

Rayne turned back to he displays, carefully considering her next words.

Jackie stepped forward, “That question is unf-

Dr. Malone cut her off with a raised hand.

“Let the girl-

He cut himself off, pursed his lips, and continued.

Let Rayne speak.” He said in a tone that would accept no argument.

Rayne consulted with herself for another long moment before slowly turning back to the judges.

“I would like to say there’s nothing that I dislike about my art and my style as an artist,” She began slowly, “But to do so would be to lie to you and to myself. To me, art has always been about expressing myself, and expressing who I am, so to say there’s nothing I dislike about my style would be like saying there’s nothing I dislike about myself. A huge lie. Ironically, the main thing I hate about my art is also what I love about it. The way I always try to hide things in the art, how I try to draw the viewer’s eyes away from the real message. I think it might cause people to misunderstand my work unless someone explains it to them, and I feel like one shouldn’t have to explain art.”

She turned back to her display once more, “For example, if one is unaware of the theme of death present in this series, then they may fail to notice where Death hides in each piece. Then the connection and deeper meaning between the pieces is lost. However, if one always has to explain that, and point out where Death hides in each image, then that can also erode the impact the series has.”

Rayne turned back to the judges one last time, “I guess that’s the best answer I can give. I hope it was adequate.”

Dr. Malone regarded her slowly, “That was... very profound.”

“Thank you,” Mr. Smith began, cutting in, “For your time today Rayne. We will be getting in touch with your teacher next week to inform you of your results.”

And with that, the judges and the following audience moved on. Or they mostly moved on, one teenage boy stayed behind, still watching Rayne intently.

Rayne was about to confront him when she was suddenly tackle-hugged from behind.

“Oh, that was so great! You really put that mean ol’ judge in his place!” Cynthia gushed.

Rayne just laughed, forgetting the boy for the time being, “I put him in his place?! That’s funny, I could have sworn that was YOU!”

They joked and teased, Ryan and Ms. Mira coming up to join them.

“Really though Cynthia,” Rayne said, suddenly serious, “Thank you. Thank you so much. If you hadn’t said that I don’t think I would have been able to make it through that.”

“Oh, no worries!” Cynthia said happily, brushing it off like it was nothing.

But it wasn’t nothing.

“But,” Rayne began before being cut off by a sob.

Cynthia instantly went from acting like a giddy school girl to acting like a concerned big sister. It was like switch had been flipped.

“Oh, Rayne,” she said soothingly, “What’s wrong?”

Between sobs Rayne managed to choke out what was bothering her, “I’m so scared that what you said, what you did for me… I’m worried that it’ll hurt your chances to proceed.”

There was silence between them for a moment.

“Is that all?” Cynthia asked, “Oh, you silly little girl. I don’t care about that. I mean, it’d be nice to move on to the third showing and all, but if I didn’t stick up for a friend then that would bother me so much more a than getting eliminated from a competition ever could.”

That pure kindness that Cynthia was so full of caused Rayne to break into more tears. Cynthia just hugged her and soothed her, with Ms. Mira and Ryan watching quietly.

Finally, once Rayne had regained her composure, the group returned to their respective displays. There was still an hour left in the showing after all.

Rayne had just collapsed into her chair, closed her eyes, and began to mentally pull herself back together when a voice disturbed her.

“Rayne?” came the familiar voice.

She opened her eyes to see the teenage boy, the boy who had been staring at her all night, standing in front of her.

“Rayne Danahy?” He asked. He was looking at her weirdly. As if there was something on her face.

That voice. It was so familiar. Why couldn’t she place it?

“Yes?” she asked, slightly uncomfortable.

“I’m sorry,” came the familiar voice once again, “I think somebody must be pulling a prank on me, because you are not who I expected to see here.” The boy reached up and rubbed the back of his head in confusion. Rayne was equally confused, she had only existed for a week and only a select few people knew of her existence. Who else had he been expecting?

“Anyways,” The boy continued.

Where was that voice from?!

“Uh, this might be a weird question, but does the name RaynyDayz mean anything to you?”
The voice. Suddenly she knew who stood before her.

Rayne’s eyes went wide with shock and fear.

She was Rayne no more. Raymond was back, and suddenly very, very aware that he was just a boy in girls clothes.

The name slipped through Raymond’s lips.

“B- Bunny?!”


I'm Aliiiiiiiive. Mostly.

Hi all,

Flummox here, finally returning after a much too long hiatus.

Life has been hectic, and I haven't had as much free time as I'd like.

Hopefully that will change soon, and I'll be able to start posting more regularly, but I cannot guarantee anything.

Life, ya'know? Shit happens.

Anyways, I think this was the first real cliff hanger ending so far.

I hope my two month absence hasn't caused too many of you to lose interest, I would love to hear from you.

Thanks, and be well.

Flummox



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