A Blank Page - Chapter 12


A Blank Page
Chapter 12
By Flummox


Rayne slowly opened her eyes.

“Ugh.” She closed them again, just wanting to fall back into the warm embrace of sleep.

Her eyes snapped open. It was Friday. The day of the third art showing. The day when she would introduce herself to Ms. Reid. They would make a plan. A plan to tell her family everything.

It was going to be a good day.

Raymond once more, he threw off the covers and slowly sat up. He took a deep breath and then stood.

He looked down at the nightie he wore. He wished he could crawl back into bed and wear it all day, but he knew he had to get ready. He stripped it off and tucked it into its hiding place inside a pillow case. He threw on his bath robe, grabbed a change of clothes, and went into the washroom, beating Sebastian by a split second. He closed and locked the door behind him.

“Brat.” Sebastian called out before heading downstairs to the other washroom.

Raymond giggled as he hopped in the shower. He shampooed and conditioned his long hair – taking joy in knowing that it was growing longer every day – and washed his body. After spending a few more minutes just standing there, enjoying the warm rain rolling down his face, he turned off the water.

He dried himself and proceeded to get dressed. The boring boy clothes he would be wearing that morning and afternoon consisted of a pair of blue jeans, and a black button up shirt. He brushed out his hair, and carefully styled it to hide his piercing. After brushing his teeth, he exited the room ready for the day.

He went downstairs to join his siblings for breakfast. Stacked neatly against the kitchen wall was all the supplies Jameson and Sebastian thought they would need for the camping trip. There were two large backpacks, two coolers, and two sleeping bags.

“You’ll have to bring your own things when you join us tomorrow.” Jameson said, noticing Raymond’s examination of the gear pile.

“Okay Dad.” Ray replied, “That’s no problem.”

“I would have had it ready for you,” Jameson went on, watching Raymond closely, “But you locked your door when you went to bed last night. I couldn’t get in to grab your camping bag and sleeping bag.”

Raymond just shrugged, making light of it. “It’s just becoming habit to lock it I guess.” It wasn’t really a lie. He certainly was getting into that habit, he just made sure to reinforce the habit whenever he wanted to sleep as Rayne.

“Well alright.” Jameson said, not making an issue of it, “So what will you and Logan be up to tonight anyways?”

“Eh, I hadn’t really thought much about it,” Raymond said, buying himself time to think, “We’ll probably just play video games and talk. Maybe go out for dinner.”

“You’ll have to tell me about it tomorrow night around the campfire.” Jameson replied as he retreated back to his office.

“Yeah Dad. I will.”

At least that would give him all of Friday and most of Saturday to make up a convincing story. Ray was really looking forward to being done with all the secrecy. His parents had always valued honesty, and all the lies he had been telling them had been weighing heavily on him.

After breakfast he packed his school bag, and soon he and Evalyn were heading out to her car, Raymond carrying Rayne’s duffel bag in addition to his own backpack. He tossed it in the back seat, and soon they were on their way.
 

~o~O~o~

 
The phone rang.

As one, the class looked up from their textbooks to see what the distraction was.

“Back to work.” Mr. Kwon called out immediately. They were in history class, in the middle of some free study time. They were ahead of the class schedule, so Mr. Kwon had allowed them to work on any homework they had. It could be from any of their classes, as long as they were actually doing homework. He promised them that the first student he caught goofing off would buy the whole class a pop quiz.

It was the last period of the school day. Class had only just started, but Raymond had a feeling he knew who was calling.

Mr. Kwon spoke quietly into the phone, “Yes. Yes. I understand. I’ll send him immediately.”

Placing the phone back onto the receiver, he turned to face the class.

“Raymond.” He announced quietly. “You’ve been excused from class early. You know where to go?”

Once again, as if they were of one mind, the whole class swiveled to look at him.

With so many eyes suddenly trained on him, it was all Ray could do to give a jerky nod.

“Back to work!” Mr. Kwon snarled at the rest of the class. “Unless you WANT a pop quiz.”

The eyes quickly receded, and with a nod from Mr. Kwon, Ray stood and left with his bag in hand.

A few minutes later he met his sister in front of the art room. She had already gone in and grabbed the duffel bag from behind Ms. Mira’s desk. That was good. Ray didn’t have to worry about attracting attention by interrupting the class currently happening behind the door.

“C’mon!” Evalyn said cheerfully as she took his hand and led him to the change rooms.

After making sure no one was watching, Evalyn and Raymond quickly slipped through the door to the girls change room.

Ray was surprised to see student belongings lying around the usually tidy room.

“Uhhhh, Eva?” he asked, suddenly nervous. Clearly there was a class occurring at the moment. A student could potentially walk in any second to find Raymond, a boy, standing in the girls locker room.

“Don’t freak out Rayne.” Evalyn immediately replied, hoping to spark his confidence with the name, “We’ll be in and out in a flash.”

She had some success as Raymond swallowed nervously before beginning to move.

Raymond stepped into one of the stalls and stripped off his male clothes. He took the plane white lingerie in his hands and slowly slipped it on. Next, she took the white dress her sister had bought her almost two weeks ago, and slipped it on for the first time since the changing room that day. She took the black silk belt and tied it around her waist, making a small bow behind her. Taking a deep breath, Rayne stepped out of the stall to rejoin her sister.

“What do you think?” she asked shyly.

“Damn girl.” Came her sister’s reply. “You have good taste. The first outfit you ever picked out, and you look great.”

Rayne could only blush as her sister sat her down on the bench and began to do her makeup.

For the few minutes it took, Rayne sat as still as she could, and just followed any instructions Evalyn gave her.

Soon her makeup was done. Rayne reached into the bag to grab her boots, but gasped when her hand pulled out something entirely different.

She looked at Evalyn accusingly.

“Come on lil’ sis.” She said flatly, “Those boots may go well with that big sweater you like, but it’d be blasphemous to try and wear them with that dress.”

Rayne looked down at the pair of high heeled sandals in her hands.

“But I don’t know how to walk in high heels.” She said, barely above a whisper, confidence seeping away.

“Don’t worry!” Evalyn said lightly, “I’d hardly call these high heels, they’re only one-and-a-half inches. More like low heels!”

Rayne giggled at that. Evalyn did have a point. They weren’t all that high, and they were block heels. Even someone as inexperienced as Rayne should be more than capable of walking in them. It also helped that they were really cute and would go well with the dress.

She slipped on the sandals and slowly stood. Evalyn was right. The slant to them was barely noticeable. She spent a few minutes walking around the change room, growing some confidence.

She could do this.

“Alright.” Evalyn began as they quickly packed everything up. “I think we’re good to go. You ready?”

Rayne nodded confidently. “Yup! Let’s do this!”

Together, the two of them exited the art room and headed for Ms. Reid’s office.

They were only 10 feet away from the door when a voice boomed out behind them.

“EXCUSE ME.”

They turned to look at the source of the voice. Rayne suddenly trembling with fear, trying to hide behind her sister.

“What are you doing out of class Ms. Danahy?” Came the stern voice of Mr. Rohmberg, the vice principal of the school, “I’d expect this from another student, but not you.”

Clearly, he hadn’t received the memo excusing them from class early.

He finally seemed to take note of the girl cowering behind Evalyn.

“And who might this be?” he asked intimidatingly, “I don’t recognize her as a student of our school.”

Rayne’s mind began going haywire. What were they going to do? He knew. He had seen them. Rayne’s secret would be out to the whole school.

Thankfully, Evalyn was not the panicky type. She didn’t break a sweat, and replied to the man in a calm level voice.

“I assure you Mr. Rohmberg, my absence from class has already been excused. My friend here, Rayne, is interested in attending out school next semester. We were going to talk to Ms. Reid to see if it would be the right fit for her. We have an appointment and everything.”

“Really now?” Mr. Rohmberg asked skeptically. “If she’s interested in coming here for schooling, then why would she be going to see Ms. Reid and not Mrs. Clarke or I? I’m sure we could answer any questions she might have better than the counsellor. And why go with you? As oppose to her parents?”

“Well,” Evalyn began, maintaining the same level voice, “That’s because,” she looked around as if checking that no one was in earshot. She took Rayne by the hand and led her closer to the vice principal. “That’s because Rayne has some deep anxiety issues.” She explained quietly, “Being comfortable with the counsellor is one of the most important parts of the school for her. It just made sense to have someone who she already trusted who was familiar with the school and counselor introduce them.”

To Rayne’s credit, she just stared at the floor, trembling slightly. It certainly added to the story Evalyn was fabricating.

“In that case,” Mr. Rohmberg began again, voice still leaking suspicion, “I could walk into Ms. Reid’s office right now, and she would vouch for you?” The man gave a small smirk, believing he had the girls cornered.

“Be my guest.” Evalyn said confidently, waving a hand in the direction of the counsellor’s door.

This left the vice principal blinking in surprise. He had been expecting her to fold and admit to skipping class. Not to welcome his inquiry. Sure that she was still bluffing, he approached the door, the girls following behind.

He looked back at them, “Last chance to come clean.” He declared as he rose his hand to knock.

“Last chance to apologize and not look like a fool.” Evalyn countered, growing annoyed by the mans accusations and suspicions. Even if she had lied about their reason for being excused from class, they HAD been excused from class. And honestly, the story she fed him wasn’t far from the truth anyways.

Her remark caused the man’s face to turn sour. He rapped on the door harshly, and was soon greeted by Ms. Reid’s voice.

“Come in.”

He opened the door and looked into the office.

“Oh.” Ms. Reid said, eyebrows coming together in confusion, “Mr. Rohmberg. I wasn’t expecting you.”

Her eyes settled on the two girls peeking out from behind the man. “Ahhh, Evalyn, Rayne, there you are. I was beginning to think you were skipping out on our appointment.”

“N-no.” Rayne meekly replied.

“Of course, not.” Evalyn said more confidently, giving Mr. Rohmberg a meaningful look, “We just got held up unexpectedly.”

“Oh. I see.” Ms. Reid replied, not quite understanding, “Is there anything you needed Mr. Rohmberg?”

The man looked around awkwardly. Suddenly embarrassed. “No Ms. Reid.”

He turned to look at the girls. “I’m very sorry for hassling you. I honestly thought you were up to something. I wish you the best of luck in finding what you’re looking for Rayne, and I hope to see you next semester.”

“I-it’s okay.” Rayne said quietly, starting to get over the unexpected encounter.

“Come on Mr. Rohmberg!” Evalyn appealed, suddenly light hearted again, “I’m a top student, have a little faith in me next time.”

“I’ll try to remember that in the future Evalyn.” He said warmly before turning to leave, closing the door behind him.

The two girls sat down their bags and took a seat in the prepared chairs. Ms. Reid silently watching Rayne as she did so. Once the whole group was steeled in, Ms. Reid spoke.

“So, what’s this about next semester?” she asked with a raised eyebrow.

Evalyn told the story of the whole encounter between them and Mr. Rohmberg. At the end, both of Ms. Reid’s eyebrows were at their peaks.

“You lied to the vice principal?” she asked, clearly disproving.

“Well what else was I suppose to do?” Evalyn countered, “Out my little sister to him?”

“If you had explained everything to him, I’m sure he would have been very understanding.” Ms. Reid said, still disagreeing with Evalyn, “I know for a fact that Mr. Rohmberg is a very kind man, who cares deeply about his student.”

Rayne was shaking her head rapidly, eyebrows raised in concern. “I’m having enough issues just coming out to my family. You expect me to just spill my soul to a man I barely know?”

Ms. Reid pursed her lips. She had to concede that point.

“Let’s move on to the real topic of our meeting.” She decided, looking at the clock. “We only have half an hour to make a plan.”

“So, uh, how do you suggest we approach it?” Rayne asked timidly.

“Together.” Ms. Reid replied immediately, “Does your family have regular family dinners together?”

Evalyn nodded, “Yup! Most dinners are spent as a family. Every few weeks we try and have a bigger dinner with all of the extended family on our father’s side.”

“Good.” Ms. Reid nodded, “That would be a great time I think. Your whole family will be relaxed, and Rayne will have Evalyn there to support her.”

The girls nodded.

“But um,” Rayne began, clearly still unsure, “HOW do I tell them? Do I just walk into dinner as Rayne? Or should Raymond be the one to tell them?”

“Ahhh,” Ms. Reid, said lifting her head as she saw the girl’s dilemma, “It’s really up to you. Doing it as Rayne would surely cause quite a shock, but at the same time it’s more likely to get their attention and will hopefully get them take you seriously. Whereas telling them as Raymond would likely be easier on them.”

Raymond nodded, although he wasn’t reassured. That didn’t really answer his question.

Sensing his unease, Ms. Reid continued, “When you come to your parents with a serious issue, the most serious issue you can ever remember bringing to them, how do they react?”

Evalyn took this one. “They usually stay very calm, and then they’ll go over the issue with us. Help us weigh pros and cons and come to a decision. Unless it’s something that’s their decision, in which case they set the issue aside for later and have private discussion before coming to a decision together.”

Ms. Reid nodded approvingly, “That’s excellent. In that case, I believe it would be better for Raymond to bring it up to them. Then, they can either be introduced to Rayne after dinner, or another day when they feel more comfortable.”

Ray released a heavy sigh. Okay. They had the start of a plan.

For the next 20 minutes, the group discussed various other details of the upcoming conversation.

What would Ray do if he choked or lost his nerve? Would Evalyn jump in? Would she speak for him? Or just encourage him? What would they do if they’re parents reacted positively? Negatively? What about Sebastian?

When the bell rang, signalling the end of the school day, they had their plan solidified. Sunday night, once everyone was home from their respective plans, Raymond and Evalyn would tell the family everything over dinner. Based on their reactions, they had a variety of contingency plans ready.

Ms. Reid looked at Rayne meaningfully, “So Rayne, I would still like to see you on Monday. Then you can tell me how it went, and we can figure out a time for me to meet with your parents and get you in to meet my colleague in Vancouver. Does that sound okay to you?”

“Yes Ms. Reid.” Rayne said with a confident nod. For the first time ever, the idea of telling her family didn’t have her panicking.

Rayne and Evalyn gathered up their bags and, after a quick goodbye, left Ms. Reid’s office.

“How about we head back over to the art room?” Evalyn suggested, “We can meet up with Ms. Mira there today.”

“O-okay. Sure.” Rayne agreed, although she wasn’t really paying attention. She was looking down the hall, now crowded with students, all eagerly rushing to head home for the weekend.

Rayne would have to walk right by them all.

Evalyn, sensing her unease, took her hand, and gave it a quick squeeze of reassurance.

“It’ll be alright Rayne.” She whispered confidently. “They’re all too busy to notice you, and even if they do, all they’ll see is a beautiful young girl.”

Rayne nodded hesitantly, took a dep breath, and with her heart hammering in her chest, the two of them started down the hall.

It quickly became clear that Evalyn had been downplaying the situation to make Rayne feel better. Many of the students noticed the pair immediately. Several called out greetings to Evalyn, wishing her a fun weekend, or just saying hello.

Thankfully, Evalyn had been right about one thing. No one recognized Rayne. Several looked at her strangely, clearly wondering who she was, but no one stared screaming about a boy in a dress. As they passed the first few students she heard whispers behind them.

“Who was that with Evalyn? I’m sure I haven’t seen her around before.” One girl said.

“Yeah. I think I’d remember her if I had.” The guy she was standing with echoed.

Rayne blushed furiously and picked up her pace. As she continued down the hall, she heard several other students echo those sentiments, with slight variations.

Rayne exhaled heavily when they finally arrived at their destination.

“What did I tell ya?” Evalyn exclaimed, “No one recognized you.”

Rayne looked at her. “You ALSO said no one would notice me.”

“Pfft. Details.” Evalyn said, shrugging off the comment.

Rayne laughed lightly and shook her head.

“Good afternoon Rayne, Evalyn!” Ms. Mira called as her last class of day streamed out of the art room. Several of the students looked at the two girls curiously but just continued on their way.

“Good afternoon Ms. Mira!” Evalyn echoed, Rayne just smiled.

“You certainly look ready for tonight. I love that dress.” Ms. Mira exclaimed after taking a better look at Rayne.

Blushing, Rayne thanked her for the compliment.

“Do you need help with anything Ms. Mira?” Rayne continued, “Or are you about ready to go?”

“I just need to lock up and swing by the teachers lounge. Then we can be on our way. As usual, the others will meet us there.”

Rayne nodded and turned back to Evalyn.

“Okay little sis.” Evalyn began quietly after making sure no one was close enough to hear, “Remember, tonight Ms. Mira will drop you off at home, no one else will be there so you can just go in without worry. You have your house keys?”

Rayne nodded.

“Good. I’ll most likely still be at the movies, but I’ll be home before long. Then we can spend the rest of the evening as a girls’ night.”

Rayne giggled. That would be something to look forward to.

Evalyn pulled Rayne into a tight hug and whispered into her ear, “Good luck Rayne.”

“Thanks Eva.” Rayne whispered back, wanting to say more, but having her words fail her.

After they split apart, Evalyn turned and left, heading to meet whichever friend or friends she was joining for dinner.

Evalyn reached her locker, and deftly entered the combination. She stowed some books, and withdrew the ones she wanted to study this weekend. She had a few minutes before she was supposed to meet her friend.

She closed her locker and turned to leave, just to walk straight into Sebastian. His friend Jackson standing just behind him.

“Oh!” she exclaimed, startled by her older brother’s sudden appearance. “Hey Seb, hey Jackson, didn’t see ya there.”

“Evalyn.” Her brother began, “We need to talk.”

Evalyn froze briefly, but quickly regained control.

“’bout what bro?” she said, feigning ignorance.

Her brother grimaced.

“Who’s this ‘Rayne’ girl you’ve been going around with? And why have you been lying to people and telling them she’s our cousin?”

Evalyn sighed in relief. Good. This meant that they didn’t know who Rayne really was.

“Fine. You caught me.” Evalyn began, letting them believe that her sigh of relief was an admission of guilt.

“The reason I’ve been lying is because I need to hide the true nature of our relationship. For at least a bit longer. For that same reason, I can’t tell you who she really is.”

Sebastian’s eyebrows knit themselves together in confusion. He looked around quickly to see who was around, before moving a bit closer.

“Eva,” he whispered, voice strained with awkwardness, “If you’re a lesbian, that’s okay. You know our family won’t be bothered by it – Uncle Noah’s gay, right? – and besides, I’ll deal with anyone who is.”

Evalyn had to smile.

“Oh Seb,” she said, pulling him into a hug, “You’re so sweet. Never change.”

Sebastian awkwardly returned her hug. Completely lost.

When they broke apart, Evalyn looked into his eyes, “Okay big bro. I just need you to keep this to yourself for a few more days.”

“A few more days?” he asked hesitantly, “I’ll keep it a secret for as long as I have to Eva, I just wanted you to know I’m on your side. I’ll always back you up.”

“I Know. But I was planning on explaining everything to the family at Sunday dinner anyways.”

“O-oh. Okay.” Sebastian agreed, “Well, I’ll be there to support you no matter what.”

“You’re the best Seb. Anyways, I’ve gotta get going, I need to meet some friends. Have fun camping and I’ll see you tomorrow or Sunday. Okay?”

“Yeah.” Sebastian agreed, “See ya Eva.

As Evalyn took off to meet her friends, Sebastian turned to Jackson.

“You didn’t hear any of that. Okay?” he said, giving his friend a meaningful look.

Jackson held his hands up defensively. “Relax man, I’m not the kinda guy who would go spreading rumors about people. Even if I was, it would be social suicide to do so about Evalyn. Everyone loves her. On top of that it would probably be real suicide too, considering who her big brother is. I’m just disappointed that that Rayne girl isn’t into guys. You haven’t seen her yet, but damn, she is cute. Your sister really knows how to pick ‘em.”

The two friends laughed and went their separate ways to enjoy the weekend.
 

~o~O~o~

 
Ms. Mira’s car pulled into the art gallery’s parking lot.

Rayne looked at her in confusion. “Not the convention center?”

“No.” Ms. Mira answered with a smile. “The number of participants has gotten low enough that we don’t need the extra space to hold everyone. This is just a preview of what the real thing will be like for those who make it to the actual event.”

“I-I see.” Rayne replied.

She swallowed nervously. She was suddenly feeling the pressure.

As she parked, Ms. Mira looked over at the young girl.

“Relax and take a deep breath Rayne. It’s going to be fine. You’re going to do great.”

Rayne took a dep breath, like she was told, and let it out slowly.

Ms. Mira was right. She could do this.

Together they climbed from the vehicle and headed towards the entrance. There they saw three familiar faces waiting for them.

Ryan and Cynthia were engaged in conversation with Bernardo. Another teenager – Rayne assumed her to be another contestant – was also participating.

“Ah,” Berny began as he saw them approaching, “Good evening Rayne, Good evening,” he paused, searching his memory for the art teachers name, “Forgive me, Ms. Mira was it?”

“Nothing to apologize for Mr. Gyerdavard. Good evening to you as well.” Ms. Mira greeted warmly, pronouncing the old man’s name flawlessly, “And just Mira is fine.”

“Hi Berny!” Rayne greeted the man excitedly, “How are you?!”

The old man chuckled, “I’m doing very well Rayne. Thank you for asking. And how are you this evening?”

“Nervous as usual.” Rayne mumbled with a light blush.

Berny, Ms. Mira, Cynthia, and Ryan all chuckled, the other girl rolled her eyes.

“Well,” Berny began, “If you just carry yourself the same way as you did the last two weeks, then I’m sure you’ll be fine.”

“I’ll do my best!” Rayne assured him.

“I’m sure you will.” The man said, smiling warmly.

“Um, do you, uh, happen to know who the judges will be tonight?” Rayne asked hesitantly.

Berny nodded slowly. “I do. Why do you ask?”

“Well, I was just wondering if there would be more new judges, or some of the same as before. So I can prepare myself.”

Berny nodded again. “I see. Well, it will be a bit of both. Tonights judging will be a bit less formal than the last two showings, the judges will be approaching the displays individually and at their leisure all evening. You will most likely be visited by every judge you have seen thus far, as well as one or two you haven’t met yet. Does that answer your question?”

Rayne frowned. “Oh. U-um, yes. It does. Thanks.”

The old man raised an eyebrow. “Is something troubling you Rayne?”

“Oh! Umm no.” Rayne said, shaking her head.

Berny stared at her intently. Silently pressuring an answer out of her.

Rayne shifted nervously before finally continuing. “Okay, yes. Something’s bothering me a bit. But it’s not a big deal, really.”

Berny continued to stare.

Rayne sighed heavily. “It’s just that one judge from last week. Dr. Malone.”

Rayne looked at her feet before continuing in a whisper. “I was hoping to not have to see him again. He was kinda scary.”

Berny nodded in understanding. “Dr. Malone can be… intense when it comes to art. He takes it very seriously, and has never been very good with kids.”

Rayne nodded, not looking up from her feet, embarrassed by her fear.

“Rayne,” Berny began, “Tell me, what did you think of the other judges you met so far?”

Rayne looked up, eyebrows scrunching together.

“Well,” she began, “From the first showing, Mr. Smith and Mrs. Tanner were nice and professional.”

“And the second showing?”

Rayne frowned again, “Like I said, Dr. Malone was scary and kinda mean. But Ms. Ferguson was really nice.”

Berny nodded again, “So, how would you feel if I told you that Ms. Ferguson was adamant that you be eliminated last round, and a big factor in why you’re here today was that Dr. Malone fought very hard for you?”

Rayne was speechless. Her jaw dropped and her eyebrows blasted off into space.

Berny chuckled. “Ms. Ferguson thought you were too insecure. She didn’t think you to be capable or mature enough to present your work at the gallery. Dr. Malone thought that was ridiculous. He said that he believed you to have a better understanding of art than most of the student’s there.”

Berny chuckled again. “He actually even went so far as to claim you had a better understanding of art than some of the judges while staring quite intently at Ms. Ferguson.”

The whole group had a chuckle at that. “At that point, the judging panel as a whole was largely undecided about you. Dr. Malone’s final argument that tipped the scale was that we weren’t there to judge your presentation skills or how good of a public speaker you are, but to judge your skill as an artist, and your understanding of art. Both of which, the rest of the judges ultimately agreed on, are years ahead of others your age.”

Rayne nodded slowly, still stunned by this revelation.

“Now, if you’re felling a bit better, I must be on my way.”

He nodded to each of them in turn.

“Rayne, Ryan, Jane. Best of luck tonight.”

Rayne, Ryan, and the girl whose name had previously been unknown thanked him as he took his leave.

Rayne turned to her and held out her hand in greeting, “Hi. Uh, I’m Rayne if you didn’t pick that up already. You’re Jane, right?”

The girl raised an eyebrow and just looked at her outstretched hand. She gave a huff, rolled her eyes, and turned to leave.

Rayne lowered her hand slowly and turned to her friends, “Did I say something to offend her?”

Ryan and Cynthia were frowning.

“I don’t know.” Ryan began slowly, “She was fine until you and Ms. Mira got here.”

“Oh.” Rayne looked distraught. What had she said? What reason could the other girl have to be so abrasive?

Sensing that Rayne was troubled, Cynthia threw her arm around the younger girl’s shoulders.

“Don’t let it bug ya!” She said happily, “Not everyone can manage to be as sweet as you. She was probs jealous.”

Rayne blushed brightly.

“Umm, w- why are you here Cynthia?” she asked nervously, anxious to change the subject.

“Why am I here?!” She exclaimed, “Whadda ya mean why am I here?!”

Blushing again, Rayne stammered out a reply.

“W- well, you were eliminated. R- right?”

Cynthia rolled her eyes.

“Psh. Like that matters.” She said dramatically, “If you think I wouldn’t be here to cheer on you and Ryan than you’re crazy!”

Rayne giggled at the girl’s antics.

“Why don’t we go get signed in and set up?” Ms. Mira asked, joining the conversation.

Ryan nodded, “Might be a good idea.”

The party of four stepped through the main entrance and into the gallery. At the reception desk, there was a short line of students accompanied by their teachers, all getting ready to check in for the evening. Ms. Mira led her charges over to the line, and pulled from her purse any necessary pieces of documentation. Her three students stood quietly beside her, each of them looking around the art gallery. Examining its architecture, décor, furniture, and really anything their eyes happened to fall upon. For all three of them, it was their first time being in such a place.

Soon they reached the front of the line, and after a brief interaction, Ms. Mira had them checked in. A few more words were exchanged, and Ms. Mira had the area assigned to them recorded in her phone.

Turning to her students, Ms. Mira asked them, “You kids done gawking? Or do you need another minute.”

Ryan rolled his eyes. Cynthia giggled. Rayne gave a characteristic blush.

Ms. Mira chuckled and led them into the art gallery proper. There, the 25 students who had made it this stage were rushing around with their individual teachers. Setting up displays, practicing presentations, discussing potential questions and how they would answer them.

Rayne swallowed nervously. This looked intense.

Ryan quickly took it all in, then turned and led them towards the area they had been assigned.

When they arrived, it immediately became clear that things were not quite as they expected. The area Ryan had led them to only had room for one display. On one side, another student was already set up, and on the other side, the room ended with a wall.

Ms. Mira looked at her phone. Then at a floor plan in her hands.

“Ah shi-“ Ms. Mira stopped what she was going to say, remembering she was in the presence of students, and instead lamely finished, “Darn.”

“W- what’s wrong Ms. Mira?” Rayne asked nervously, not liking her teacher’s reaction.

Ms. Mira frowned as she explained, “I requested that you and Ryan be given areas adjacent to each other so that our group could stay together. Clearly, I wasn’t clear enough because they gave Ryan section 12, and they gave you section 13.”

“Okaaaaay.” Cynthia replied, not understanding where this was going.

Ms. Mira sighed. “This hall of the art gallery ends with section 12, and the next begins with section 13. So, while it sounds like 12 and 13 are close together, they’re really not.”

“O- oh.” Rayne managed to reply. She had been grown accustomed to having her friends and instructor right next to her.

“Will you be okay by yourself Rayne?” Ms. Mira asked, clearly concerned about the younger student. “Obviously, I won’t leave you alone any more then I have to, but I can’t exactly just abandon Ryan either.”

Rayne was silent for a moment, and then slowly nodded.

“I wont always have you guys around to look after me, right?” she began hesitantly, “I need to learn how to take care of myself. So, yeah. I’ll be fine for a bit.”

“And don’t forget!” Cynthia piped up, “I’m here too! Between the two of us, we should be able to keep you both company most of the time.”

Ryan rolled his eyes. “God forbid Cynthia wasn’t here.” He teased sarcastically, “Whatever would we do?”

“Hey!” Cynthia punched his shoulder softly as Rayne giggled at the banter.

“Will you be okay to set up by yourself Ryan?” Ms. Mira said, interrupting the teasing, “I’d like to go get Rayne settled.”

“Yeah, for sure Ms. Mira.” Ryan agreed confidently, “You and Cynthia go get the little one all ready. You know how shy she gets around the big kids.”

Clearly, it was now Rayne’s turn to be the brunt of some teasing.

“Hey!” She objected, “That’s not funny!”

The giggles from Ms. Mira and Cynthia seemed to disagree with her.

Rayne puffed up her cheeks and crossed her arms indignantly.

Her new stance had the opposite effect as intended, and the other girls only laughed harder, now joined by Ryan.

Rayne rolled her eyes and stopped trying to restrain her own smile.

After the group had regained control of themselves, Rayne departed alongside Ms. Mira and Cynthia to find and setup her display.
 

~o~O~o~

 
Rayne stood by her display. Nervously watching the girl across from her, the girl in question glaring venomously back at her in turn.

It was just her luck that she’d be opposite Jane. She didn’t know what she had done to upset the girl, but she had clearly done something. It was all she could do to try not to let it bother her. She didn’t even have anyone to talk to to distract her from the girl. Cynthia and Ms. Mira had gone back to check on Ryan.

Thankfully, escape came in the form of an announcement over the intercom.

“We would now like to request all of the entrants to join our judges at the podium across from the entrance and next to zone 1.”

Rayne wasted no time, quickly walking in the direction she had been pointed. Doing her best to ignore the eyes drilling holes into her back. Finding a place in the small crowd, she was soon joined by Ryan.

“What do you think this is about?” She whispered to him, hoping the older boy would have a better understanding.

He just shrugged.

She didn’t have to wait for long however, as Berny stepped up onto the small stage, joined by six others. Rayne recognized four of them as the judges from the past two weeks, Mrs. Tanner, Mr. Smith, Jackie Ferguson, and Dr. Malone. The other two were complete mysteries.

“Good evening.” Berny began, “First, I must say – and I’m sure all of my fellow judges will agree – that no matter what happens tonight, you have all done incredibly well, and should be very proud of yourselves to have made it this far. Please, a round of applause for our very talented student artists.”

Around the room that various teachers in attendance, as well as the art gallery faculty, joined the judges in bringing their hands together.

“Now,” Berny began again once the noise had faded, “Tonight is the last showing. We have narrowed down a group of a few hundred, to the 25 students we believe to be the most talented. Unfortunately, it is still not enough. As much as I would like to feature each and every one of you next week, the event administrators have made it very clear that they are only awarding 10 spots. So, this harsh task falls to us, your judges. Tonight, we will each be wandering the room at our own leisure. Mingling with the students and teachers present, taking a closer look at your work, and probably asking more questions.”

His gaze slowly swept across the assembled students.

“Please. Do your best to impress us. This is your last chance to do so.”

He smiled softly. “No pressure though.”

A nervous chuckle ran through the crowd.

“We will begin in 20 minutes, at 6 o’clock sharp. We will spend – a much too short – two hours amongst you. Then, we will retreat to the back room of the gallery for an hour of what is sure to be intense deliberation and arguing, before immediately announcing the results at 9, or shortly after.”

A wave of excitement surged through those listening. They had expected to have to wait a few days for the results, like the last two showings.

Berny chuckled, clearly amused by their reactions.

“Yes, that’s right. The results will be announced tonight as opposed to the middle of the week. As we know many of you have your hands full with your studies, we decided it would be best to give our finalists some extra time to make any preparations for the actual event in two weeks. The young ladies might want a chance to get a nice new dress, the young men the chance to get a new outfit of their own. On the topic of clothing, there will be a dress code, but I’ll get to that in a moment.”

He took a deep breath before continuing.

“Now, I’m going to go over a quick briefing of the final event, as I’m sure no one will want to stick around for it later. The event will be right here, on the 11th and 12th of October. Yes, you heard me correct, it is a two-day event. Saturday the 11th will be open to the general public, and will run from noon, until 7:00 pm. Sunday will be the private showing. The only attendants will be those individuals who received an invitation from the gallery itself, as well as your families. The Sunday showing will run from 11:00 am to 5:00 pm, followed by a dinner, and, for those who are interested in selling their work, an art auction. You are expected to dress business casual for the showings, and perhaps something a bit fancier for the dinner and auction – should you choose to attend. However, bear in mind that while I have said business casual, you are artists. The term ‘business casual’ has many interpretations in our field, and I encourage you to be creative. Finally, the second reason we are giving you two weeks instead of the customary one. If you recall, when you entered this competition, you were asked to submit a five piece portfolio to be considered. That’s what you have had displayed for the past two weeks and tonight. As you may have noticed, all 25 of you, with your displays, fit in here quite nicely. Why then, you may ask, can only ten people make it to final event?”

The thought certainly had crossed Rayne’s mind. A quick glance around told her she wasn’t the only one.

“That’s because,” Berny continued, “in the final event, more will be on display then just your portfolio. Your portfolio will just be the center piece, but we would like you to share more of your work with us. We don’t expect everything you bring to be at the same level as your first five pieces, these other pieces are your chance to show off. Anything your proud of. Anything you like. Think hard, and choose the pieces that represent you best. Of course, for now you should focus on tonight. I know that was a lot to take in at once, so all of this information will be sent to your individual instructors.”

His gaze swept across them again.

“I feel blessed to have been able to witness your talent, and the products of it. I wish you all the best of luck.”

With that, the judges stepped down from the stage and returned to the backroom.

Ryan turned to look at her, eyes wide with uncharacteristic excitement.

“We’ll have the results TONIGHT!” he exclaimed.

Rayne giggled at his reaction as Ms. Mira and Cynthia joined them once again.

“You guys ready?!” Cynthia asked excitedly.

“You know it!” Ryan declared, uncharacteristically pumped up.

“As ready as I’ll ever be.” Rayne said quietly, nervously biting her lip.

“You’ll do fine.” Ms. Mira reassured her, “Shall we head back to your displays?”

“Yeah, I just wish I could be as confident as Ryan.” Rayne explained as she turned towards her place.

Ms. Mira joined her as Cynthia headed off with Ryan, promising to come check in on her soon.

“I’ll text you too!” Ryan said as they parted, “That way we can be there for reach other even from opposite sides of the room!”

Rayne giggled at his excitement. “Sounds good Ryan!”

After they arrived back at her display, Rayne pulled out her phone.

“Aw man.” She said, frowning at the dark screen.

Ms. Mira looked at her questioningly.

“My phone’s dead.” She explained, “So much for texting.”
 

~o~O~o~

 
Rayne took a deep breath. The two hours of individual judging had begun. Her mind was racing.

Two hours. That didn’t seem like long. Only 120 minutes. Assuming each judge visited each student and spent an equal amount of time with each of them that meant they got roughly five minutes per student, not accounting for walking time. Seven judges, five minutes with each judge, she only needed to spend 35 minutes with them. 35 minutes wasn’t to long. Of course, that was assuming a lot. Who was to say the judges wouldn’t spend longer or shorter with some contestants. Maybe they’d spend longer if they were particularly interested in a student’s work. They’d be asking questions too of course. What kind of questions? Surely, they’d be different from the last two weeks. What if they asked about her? What would she tell them? She had basically only been alive for two weeks. Rayne glanced at her watch. Only a minute had passed. Oh god. Two hours? Suddenly that seemed like an eternity. How was she going to make it that long? Even if she only spent a few minutes with each judge, there could be an eternity of waiting between each of them. 35 minutes in front of the judges meant 85 minutes just standing there. Oh God. What if she choked? What if she embarrassed herself? What if she-

“Rayne.” Cynthia’s voice pulled her from the turmoil of her thoughts, “Calm down.”

Rayne swallowed nervously.

“Calm down?” She asked anxiously, “What makes you think I’m not calm?”

“You’re pacing.” Cynthia said flatly. “Calm people don’t pace.”

Rayne stopped moving. She looked down. She hadn’t even realized she was doing it, but Cynthia was right. She had been walking back and forth in front of her display.

Blushing, she shyly returned to where she had been standing in front of her display.

“Take a deep breath.” Cynthia advised her.

Rayne closed her eyes and took a long, slow, deep breath. Then let it out just as slowly.

“Now another.”

Rayne did as she was told. Her heart and mind slowly calming.

“Now get ready.”

“Huh?” She asked, opening her eyes to look at Cynthia, confused by the sudden change.

Cynthia nodded down the room.

Rayne followed her gesture to the sight of one of the judges, headed straight towards her.

Rayne swallowed nervously and took another deep breath. This was it. Moment of truth.

She was an older grey-haired woman. She wasn’t one of the judges Rayne had encountered in the previous showings, but Rayne knew she was a judge. She recognized her from Berny’s announcement.

“Good evening.” Rayne greeted her. Quite pleased - even proud – that, while her greeting had been quiet, it was free of squeaks and stutters.

“Hello.” The woman greeted in return, “My name is Mrs. Wilkins, and I believe you are Rayne Danahy, yes?”

“Um, yes, that’s correct.” She replied, silently cursing herself for preceding her answer with an ‘um’.

Mrs. Wilkins nodded and offered a handshake. “It’s good to finally meet you.”

Rayne accepted her handshake. “You as well, but, um, what do you mean by ‘finally’?”

Mrs. Wilkins nodded at the girl’s question. “I have heard quite a bit about you from the other judges.”

“You have?” Rayne asked, remembering what Berny had said earlier.

“Oh yes.” She replied, “Dr. Malone in particular was rather outspoken about your work and how you deserved to be here tonight. I felt the need to meet you and see your work for myself.”

“I- I see.” Rayne replied, suddenly intimidated, “I, uh, I hope I can live up to your expectations.”

“Well to be honest – and I mean no offense – I never expect much from high school children.” The woman replied bluntly, “Especially not from ones as young as yourself. So, you don’t have very much to live up to.”

Rayne blushed, completely at a loss for words. What could she say in reply to that?

Mrs. Wilkins began to carefully inspect Rayne’s work. Going from piece to piece, bringing her face close to the canvas. Seemingly inspecting every brush stroke on the paintings, and every line on the drawings.

“Uh, um, c- could I uh, explain a- anything? O- or answer any questions?” Rayne asked. Damn. Stutter was back.

The woman frowned, but said nothing.

“I-is everything okay?” Rayne asked nervously.

After a long moment, Mrs. Wilkins turned to look at the girl.

“I’m going to be honest with you Rayne, Ms. Ferguson expressed concern that you were too insecure for this event. She claimed that you were so nervous it was near impossible to understand what you were saying, and that you would be unable to succeed if you were made to talk in front of a large group of influential adults.”

Rayne’s lip trembled. She felt tears pooling in her eyes. So Berny hadn’t been joking around earlier. Jackie had seemed so nice and supportive at last weeks showing.

“I don’t need you to explain anything. I received written copies of your comments from the past two weeks. Thank you for your work and your time.”

And with that, Mrs. Wilkins turned to leave.

Cynthia took a step forward, no doubt about to chew out the judge, but Rayne held out her hand.

She swallowed back her tears. She could see Jane sniggering at her from across the hall. She couldn’t just let it end like this.

“W-Wait!”

Mrs. Wilkins stopped and slowly turned, an eyebrow raised in question.

“Yes?”

Rayne took a deep breath. It was now or never.

“That isn’t fair.” She spoke slowly, making an effort to keep her voice clear.

Mrs. Wilkins just continued to watch her.

“I’ll be the first to admit,” Rayne continued, “That I’m not the most confident, and I’m not the best speaker. I- I am shy, a- and soft spoken. And yes, I have some insecurities. I wish I had confidence like my friends do. B- but that’s besides the point. This event was meant to assess our skills and knowledge as artists, right? So, unless I’ve unknowingly entered a personality or popularity contest, if you plan on judging me based on my confidence levels, then I don’t want to win.”

A long moment passed, Rayne refusing to be the first to break eye contact.

Finally, just as Rayne’s lip was beginning to tremble again, Mrs. Wilkins nodded, and with the smallest of smiles gracing her lips, turned and left.

Rayne heaved out a huge sigh, only now realizing she had been holding her breath.

Cynthia pulled her into a big hug, “Rayne that was awesome! Way to tell her!”

Rayne laughed freely, letting the stress melt away. “Well if I didn’t then you clearly would have.”

Cynthia joined her in laughing.

One they had calmed down, Cynthia announced that she was going to check in on Ryan.

As she left, she called back over her shoulder, “Either me or Ms. Mira will be back shortly.”

Rayne just nodded and went back to where she had been standing. One judge down, six more to go.

She closed her eyes and leaned against the wall, taking a deep breath.

“What’s your problem?”

Rayne sighed heavily. Opening her eyes, she saw Jane, arms crossed and glaring at her from a few feet away.

“What’s yours?” Rayne shot back, feeling too good to just fall back and timidly accept the girls disdain at the moment.

“I’ve literally been nothing but nice to you.” she continued, determined to get to the bottom of the conflict, “I’ve been wracking my brain all night, trying to figure out what I could have done, and nothing comes to mind. And yet, all night you’ve been looking at me like I killed your dog or something. What’s your problem with me?”

The older girls jaw dropped. She hadn’t been expecting to be called out so abruptly.

“I hate pretentious people.” The girl claimed, “And fake people. And you’re, like, the definition of both of those.”

Rayne squinted in confusion and raised her hands helplessly.

“Whaa?” she replied, exasperated, “How can you say that? You don’t even know me.”

“Doesn’t matter,” Jane declared, “I’ve seen enough of you to know. You put on this fake, innocent, shy girl persona to try and win people over, and you act like there’s some great hidden meaning in your work to try and make your mediocre paintings look better. But I see through it.”

Rayne chuckled and shook her head. “Whatever. I don’t need to explain myself to you, and I’m not going to let you get to me. Not tonight.”

She pushed off from the wall to stand up straight, and turned to look around the room.

Jane sniffed haughtily and returned to her display.

Rayne took another deep breath. Standing up for herself twice in one night? Not bad.
 

~o~O~o~

 
The night proceeded much in the same way. Short periods of interaction with the judges separated by long periods of standing around and waiting. A lot of the other students at least had their phones to play on while they waited, but with hers dead, it was all Rayne could do to stand there and try to look as professional as possible. She passed the time by thinking about potential questions the remaining judges might ask, and how she would answer them.

She also quietly mentioned the confrontation with Jane to Ms. Mira, who just smiled at her sympathetically.

“You can be nice to everyone, Rayne,” Her teacher had explained, “But sometimes you’ll meet people who just don’t like you for some make believe slight, or just for no reason at all. But if you just keep being you, then I’m sure that the vast majority of people will like you very much.”

Rayne mulled over Ms. Mira’s advice for a short time before deciding her teacher was probably right, and when she really thought about it, she didn’t really care whether complete strangers liked her or not. They weren’t the ones who mattered, and there was no point devoting more brain power to the confrontation. That sent her back to the monotony of silent preparation and brainstorming for any other judges who may visit.

Mr. Smith and Mrs. Tanner stopped by just to congratulate her on making it this far. Jackie Ferguson eyed her from across the room but never came over in person, and Dr. Malone came to examine her work once again, but they didn’t exchange any words. It totally wasn’t because Rayne was still intimidated by the man. Definitely not.

It was 7:30, with only half an hour to go, when Berny approached her alongside a tall, young man. He had short hair, and a big bushy beard – trimmed and styled to look neat. Rayne identified him to be the seventh judge. The only one she had not yet met.

“Hello again Rayne,” Berny greeted her with a warm handshake, “How has your evening been so far.”

“It’s been okay,” she replied after withdrawing her hand, “A little rocky and nerve racking here and there, but I haven’t broken down yet so that’s something.” She chuckled nervously.

“Indeed it is,” Berny agreed, chuckling with her, “Although, I believe you’re stronger than you give yourself credit for.”

Rayne blushed lightly at the compliment, responding only with a light shrug.

“Anyways,” Berny said, getting back on topic, “If you’d give me the honor, I’d like to introduce you to Harrison Cooke.” He gestured to the man beside him. “Harrison, this is Rayne, the youngest student in the competition. Rayne, this is Harrison, The youngest judge on the panel. See? You have something in common already.”

The group laughed at that. Youngest artist and youngest judge shook hands.

“What are you trying to do Berny?” The young man teased, “Sounds like you’re trying to set us up on a date or something.”

Rayne blushed and laughed with the two men. She knew what Berny was trying to do though. He was trying to make her as comfortable as possible, and thankfully, it was working.

“I dunno, he seems a bit old for me.” She chipped in, trying to keep the conversation as light hearted.

“Who’s calling me old now!” The young judge demanded with mock indignation.

After another small bout of shared laughter, Harrison turned to her work. “Anyways, all joking aside, let’s get down to business.”

“What inspired you to portray death in your work?” he asked, staring intently at her pieces.

“Nothing really. The whole project just started with an idea. I wanted to see if, through the use of contrast, I could draw a viewer’s eye to a specific place on the piece and cause them to completely miss another, more significant, element. That element just ended up being the grim reaper on a whim.”

When Harrison nodded, Rayne continued.

“It was really after coming across the ‘four manners of death’ that I was inspired to make the other pieces. It might be better for me to come up with some grand inspiration for the series, but it was really just a coincidence.”

“Yes,” Harrison mused, “I recall reading your explanation about that, and don’t worry about it. Your honesty is appreciated and will serve you just as well.”

He stared intently at her work for a long time.

Rayne stood next to him, hands folded in front of her, contemplating whether she should say something or elaborate further.

“Tell me Rayne,” Harrison began, sparing her from the decision, “What do you like to do besides art?”

“Oh, um,” Rayne hadn’t really been expecting that. Earlier she had entertained the idea of receiving a question unrelated to her work, but she didn’t really expect it to happen, “I like to read – usually high fantasy, I love video games, and spending time with my family.”

“Hmmm, A gamer girl eh?”

Blushing, Rayne nodded shyly.

“I was mainly asking,” Harrison explained, “Because I was curious as to whether your other hobbies had any influence on your art.”

“Ahh,” Rayne said in understanding, “Well, if you saw some of my other work, I’m sure you’d see that they do.”

Harrison chuckled and nodded. “I think I’d like to see more. But for now, I have everything I need.”

He turned back to her and offered another handshake.

She accepted it.

“Thank you so much for this opportunity Mr. Cooke.”

“Please, call me Harrison.” He insisted, “And thank you for sharing your work with me. Best of luck tonight.”

The two judges departed, and Rayne released a heavy sigh. It was out of her hands now. Whether she made it or not, she could proudly say she had done her best.

A few minutes later an announcement came over the intercom.

“The judges will spend the next hour discussing their findings before presenting the results at 9:00. If anyone cannot remain until the allotted time, then the results will also be forwarded by email tomorrow morning.”

Rejoining Ms. Mira and Ryan, Rayne finally felt the exhaustion hit her. It had been a long day. Not too long for her want to leave without the results however.

“So, do I even need to ask whether we’re waiting around for the results or not?” Ms. Mira asked.

Ryan just looked at her with a raised eyebrow, “Unless Rayne disagrees, do we even need to answer that?”

The group, too tired to laugh, just smiled.

“How about I see if I can’t go find some coffee?” Cynthia asked, before quickly adding, “And hot chocolate for the little one?”

Rayne smiled and rolled her eyes, but didn’t say no.

Ryan and Ms. Mira both agreed quickly.

“We’re just gonna go find a place to sit down.” Ms. Mira announced, deciding for the whole group – not that either Ryan or Rayne would have disagreed.
 

~o~O~o~

 
A short time later, Cynthia, warm drinks in hand, found them sitting on the floor together. Ryan and Ms. Mira were quietly discussing the events of the night, and Rayne was leaning against the wall, apparently asleep.

“Hey,” Cynthia whispered, joining them on the floor and distributing the drinks, “She clunked out, eh?”

Ryan and Ms. Mira smiled, silently chuckling as they looked over at the sleeping girl.

“She told me about her day on the way over. Sounds like she had a bit more going on today then just the showing.” Ms. Mira explained.

“Oh?” Cynthia asked, prompting their teacher to elaborate further.

Ms. Mira shook her head, “It’s not my place to say anything further.”

Ryan and Cynthia nodded in understanding, although if Cynthia’s frown was any clue, she clearly wanted to know more.

“Darn right it’s not.” Rayne mumbled, drawing chuckles from the rest of the group.

She slowly sat up and opened her eyes.

“But,” she said slowly, rubbing the drowsiness from her eyes, “If ya gimme ma coco I might tell you.”

With a giggle, Cynthia pulled the last cup from the tray and handed it over.

Rayne took a small sip. A satisfied smile gracing her face.

“Ahhhhh.”

“Sooooooo” Cynthia prompted, wanting the explanation she was promised.

Rayne rolled her eyes. “So nosey.” She teased, but she went into an explanation nonetheless.

“I had an appointment with my sister and Ms. Reid, the student counsellor.”

“What would you be talking to her about?” Cynthia asked, not understanding.

“Was it about,” Ryan began, before looking around cautiously, “The – Ya know – the thing?”

Rayne nodded slowly.

Cynthia looked more confused, “The thing? What thing?”

Rayne sighed and shook her head. Ryan face-palmed. Ms. Mira giggled.

“Ya know Cynthia,” Ryan began, “Despite how long I’ve known you, it still shocks me how sometimes, despite being really intelligent, you can be sooooo thick headed.”

Cynthia just looked more confused. “What? I don’t get it. What thing?”

Rayne sighed again and gestured to her body, “Ya know? The thing? We talked about it last week?”

Sudden understanding dawned on Cynthia’s face. “OOOOOH, THE-,” she looked around quickly before finishing in a whisper, “The thing.”

Rayne giggled and shook her head at the girl’s reaction. “Yes Cynthia. The thing.”

“Well?” Cynthia asked, prompting Rayne to continue now that she was back in the loop.

Rayne rolled her eyes and continued, “Ms. Reid, Eva, and I were making a plan about how to tell my family. Eva and I are gonna tell them on Sunday.”

Cynthia squealed in excitement. “Oh Rayne, that’s great! Maybe we’ll see you at school on Monday!”

Ryan hmphed. “That’s unlikely.”

“Whhhhy not?!” Cynthia asked, annoyed that he’d shoot her down so fast. When she saw both Ms. Mira and Rayne nodding in agreement with Ryan, she asked again, a bit calmer, “Why?”

“Cynthia,” Ms. Mira explained quietly, “Even if Rayne’s whole family is as accepting as you, there’s still a lot involved in order for her to openly live as Rayne, if she were even comfortable to do so.”

Cynthia slowly nodded, “I think I understand. Coming out to the whole school is pretty different from just telling your family huh?”

Rayne nodded. “Honestly, I’m freaking out over just the plan for Sunday. I’m really scared.”

Cynthia pulled her into a hug. For the next few minutes no one said anything. They just sat together.

Finally, when the hug split up, the conversation moved onto lighter things. They discussed the judge’s critiques, Ryan expressing his dissatisfaction with his own conversations with the judges, and Rayne doing her best not to think about her own.

“It’s out of my hands now.” Were the words she kept saying.

Finally, an announcement came over the intercom.

“Would all entrants please gather at the podium for the results.”

Rayne and Ryan met each other’s gaze.

“It’s time.” Ms. Mira announced. “You two ready?”

Ryan nodded as he rose to his feet, Rayne let out a shaky breath as she rose to hers.

Together, the group walked to the podium. The seven judges were already there, patiently waiting for the entrants to gather. Ms. Mira and Cynthia waited with the rest of the non-entrant attendees at the edge of the group as Ryan and Rayne joined the small crowd of students.

Once Berny was satisfied that the whole group was present, he began.

“Well, I hope everyone’s nights were as exciting and enjoyable as ours – hopefully without the stress. It’s been a long, challenging, and – more then anything else I think – exhausting three hours. Seeing all of your hard work and passion, and then having to eliminate 60% of you has been incredibly taxing. When the idea for this event was first conceived, we could never have anticipated the level of talent we would witness. Can you believe we ever actually thought we may have to cancel the event for lack of talent?”

The man slowly shook his head.

“I believe I speak for the whole panel of judges when I say that I have been inspired by the youth before us today. Please, another round of applause. They deserve it.”

Those present put their hands together, many of the student’s clapping each other on the back. Once the room was quiet again, Berny continued.

“Now, without further delay, I will list our ten finalists, in no particular order, who will present their work at the gallery in two weeks time.”

One by one he listed the ten names. Those whose names were called reacting in all manners from tears of joy, to fists flying into the air.

“Charlie Pickering”

“Alyson Ecclestone”

“Warren Marchand”

“Tricia Jordan”

“Jessa Kimball”

“Rayne Danahy”

Her mind went blank. She was vaguely aware that names were still being called, but it didn’t matter. Had she heard that correctly? Did he say her name? Was she dreaming?

A moment later Ryan was grabbing her by the shoulders.

“You did it! Rayne! You made it in!”

“I did it?” She asked, still not quite believing it.

“You did it.” Ryan whispered into her ear, pulling her into a hug.

Tears welled up in her eyes. She had done it. After three showings, she had been awarded one of ten spots, out of hundreds of kids.

“RAYNE!”

Cynthia came bulldozing through the slowly dispersing crowd of students, throwing her arms around Ryan and Rayne.

“OHMYGOSH YOU MADE IT!!!” She squealed with joy.

Rayne’s vision was clouded with tears. “I didn’t think I would make it.” She said slowly still in a daze.

“I knew you were the right student for this.” Ms. Mira asked as she joined the group, “I knew from the beginning that you had it in you.”

Breaking away from her friends, Rayne threw her arms around her teacher, pulling her into a hug.

“Thanks for believing in me.” She whispered.

“Always.” Her teacher whispered back.

The two of them broke apart, Rayne wiping the tears from her eyes.

She turned to Ryan, “D- did you make it? I kinda blanked after my name was called.”

Ryan smiled back at her, “No. I didn’t. But I knew I wouldn’t. All night the judges were giving other student’s works more attention than mine. I’m not upset though. I’m just happy to have made it this far, and happy that one of us made it all the way.”

Rayne pulled him into another hug.

When they separated, Rayne had to wipe more tears from her eyes.

“Gosh, why am I so emotional?” She mumbled to herself, eliciting laughter from the rest of the small group.

“Eh, it’s been a long, emotional day for you. And you’re really tired.” Cynthia explained, making light of it.

“Yeah,” Ryan agreed, “Besides, you’re up awfully late for a little girl.”

“C’mon!” Rayne pouted, “I’m not THAT much younger than you guys.”

There was more laughter, only interrupted by Berny’s approach.

“I just wanted to congratulate you in person Rayne.” The friendly old man explained, offering a handshake, “You’re truly a special girl.”

Rayne pushed past his handshake and wrapped the old man in a hug.

“I’m to emotional for handshakes right now.” She blubbered, crying again.

Laughing, the man returned her embrace.

When she let him go, Ms. Mira spoke up, “We need to get going Rayne. It’ll be past 10 by the time I get you home.”

Rayne nodded, wiping the tears from her eyes once more. She thanked Berny again, and departed with Ms. Mira. A short time later, and after a few more goodbye hugs to her friends, they were on the road. Rayne asleep in the car within minutes.
 

~o~O~o~

 
“C’mon Rayne. We’re at your house.”

“Mmmmmm”

“C’mon Rayne. You just gotta get up long enough to get to bed.

Slowly, Rayne was drawn from her slumber.

With a yawn, she rubbed the sleep from her eyes and looked out the window.

They were parked in front of her house.

“Do you need a hand getting in?” Ms. Mira asked, watching the drowsy girl.

“Nope.” She mumbled back. “Doors are locked but I gotta key.”

Ms. Mira nodded as Rayne opened the door and climbed out.

“I’ll stick around until you get inside. And congratulations again Rayne.”

Rayne smiled, nodded, and waved goodbye as she closed the door. She turned and walked up to her house, rummaging in her purse for her keys. Finding them, she drew them out, selected the right one, and inserted it into the door.

The turned the knob and stepped inside, kicking off her shoes, then closing and locking the door behind her.

She had taken two steps towards the stairs when the light was flicked on.

“JUST WHERE THE HELL HAVE YOU BEEN, AND WHY HAVEN’T YOU BEEN-

Jameson’s fury was cut short by the sight before him.

His eyebrows knitted together in confusion.

Rayne’s eyes did the opposite, going wide in shock.

“Answering your phone.” He finished weakly, fury having been killed by confusion.

“D- Dad?” The word slipped though her lips.

Confusion gave way to recognition, followed by more confusion.

“Raymond?” her father asked incredulously.

This couldn’t be happening. This wasn’t happening. It was such a cliché. Teenager goes somewhere without telling parents. Teenager comes home late. Parents are waiting to catch them red handed.

Such a cliché.

That happened in the movies. And on TV. Not in real life, right? It was almost funny. She could have laughed.

But it wasn’t funny. And she didn’t laugh.

“Y- Y- You’re n- not supposed to be here.” Rayne stammered instead, heart seizing.

Who had she been kidding. Rayne? She wasn’t Rayne. She was Raymond. A boy in a dress, playing make-believe about a life he didn’t have. Couldn’t have.

“Raymond?” Jameson asked again.

Sebastian walked out of the kitchen at the confrontation. He stopped in his tracks and did a double take at the sight before him.

Rayne – Raymond – turned and fled. He leapt up the stairs, two at a time, and bolted for his door.

“RAYMOND!”

He ignored his fathers call, threw his bedroom door open, slammed it shut behind him, and turned the lock.

Raymond. Rayne. It didn’t matter anymore. Her own personal apocalypse had begun.



Good morning! For me at least.

Flummox here.

So, this was the big one. With a big ending.

Hope you can forgive the cliffhanger. I promise I’m not some kind of literary sadist, taking pleasure in torturing my readers. It just seemed like… a very good place for one. That and the chapter was running long already.

Hopefully I didn’t leave in too many mistakes, I was catching them right up until the moment of posting, so I’m sure there’s still a couple. But with any luck they won’t be huge or embarrassing.

Anyways, as always, thanks for taking the time to read. Comments and messages make my day and keep me motivated, so if you feel comfortable doing that and have the time to, I’d love to hear from you. They also serve to help me improve as a writer.

Lots more to come, I’ll try not to keep you waiting too long.

Thanks for everything,

Flummox



If you liked this post, you can leave a comment and/or a kudos!
Click the Thumbs Up! button below to leave the author a kudos:
up
188 users have voted.

And please, remember to comment, too! Thanks. 
This story is 12062 words long.