A Blank Page - Chapter 20


A Blank Page
Chapter 20
By Flummox


It was finally done. She had spent almost all her free time through the week working on it. Not that that was hard, being grounded from video games, the internet, and going out in general. She was walking into the art room now. Well, Raymond was. Details.

It was actually a very important detail. One she was forgetting more often every day. It was just getting so much harder to think of herself as Raymond.

“Ray!”

Ms. Mira’s voice drew her from her thoughts.

“Hi Ms. Mira.” Raymond’s voice replied. “I have something for you.”

Rayne pulled the thick cardboard tube from where it was tucked under her arm. Ms. Mira gave them out when students wanted to bring projects back and forth between home and school. The painting he had been working on all week had been carefully rolled up and slid inside.

“I was hoping this was going to happen when you asked for the tube a few days ago.” Ms. Mira mused as they moved over to one of the empty art tables. It was the start of lunch hour, no one else was in the room.

Ms. Mira unscrewed the lid and gently drew out the rolled-up paper.

“Ooooh, is that it?!”

Rayne and Ms. Mira paused to turn to the door. Cynthia’s head was peeking though. Ryan could be seen standing behind her, rolling his eyes.

Rayne covered her mouth to stifle a giggle. She had mentioned to them she was trying to rush a piece in time for the showing.

Ms. Mira looked at Rayne, posing the silent question of whether the older students should be granted entry. The giggle escaped and Rayne nodded, turning back to the door to wave for Ryan and Cynthia to join them.

“Yay!” Cynthia squealed, pushing the door open and skipping into the room. Ryan followed silently behind her, pulling the door closed behind him. The simple action of closing the door allowed Rayne to breathe easier. The only people in this room were people she could trust. She could drop the façade that was Raymond, even if only for a few minutes.

“Shall we?” Ms. Mira asked Rayne once everyone was gathered around the table.
Rayne nodded and unrolled the paper, grabbing various small objects to pin down the corners to prevent it from springing closed again.

The four of them examined the painting, Rayne patiently waiting for their input.

“Huh.” Cynthia placed her hand on her chin, “Not what I was expecting.”

Rayne giggled, “What were you expecting?”

Cynthia hummed something that vaguely sounded like ‘I dunno’, eliciting another giggle Rayne.

“I know where Cynthia’s coming from.” Ryan spoke up, eyes never leaving the painting, “I wasn’t expecting a portrait either.”

Rayne turned to look at the painting. It was a recreation of a picture that was taken last summer. It had been a portrait of Rayne’s family and all of her extended family on Jameson’s side. Grandpa Frank and Grandma Olivia, Uncle Frank, the twins, Aunt Lisa, Uncle John, Mackenzie and Lizzy, Rayne’s father and Mother, Sebastian and Evalyn, and Raymond. The picture had been taken during a summer camping trip, they were all gathered in a field up in the mountains. A lake could be seen on one side, trees on the other, and the mountains behind them. Everyone in the family had gotten a copy. It had been a fun trip, and everyone in the picture was smiling. Well, almost everyone. Raymond’s face was neutral in the photograph – something the family had teased him about when they had first seen the photo.

Rayne had recreated the photo with paints. It looked almost identical to the photograph, except for one big difference. There was no Raymond to be seen. Where he had been, there was now a young teenage girl instead. She didn’t particularly stand out in the picture, as the family had been arranged with the grandparents in the middle and the youngest kids on the outside, but she bore an unmistakeable likeness to Rayne, and whereas Raymond’s face had been bordering on sad, her face smiled brightly. It was a small detail. One that would be undistinguishable from any other face, and wouldn’t stand out. Unless someone saw the original, or knew the story behind the painting.

“I don’t get it.” Cynthia said flatly, “I recognize you and your siblings, but who are these other people? Is the grim reaper hidden somewhere here too and I’m just missing it? That’d be kinda morbid though. With your family in it and all.”

Rayne giggled, “Maybe this’ll help.”

She reached into her bag and pulled out a book, and from the book a picture. It was the original photograph. One by one the other three looked at the photo and then back to the painting.

“I don’t know what to say.” Ms. Mira announced, “This is very well done, and clearly has a lot of meaning to it.”

Rayne nodded softly, “Only to certain people, but yes, it does. My dad’s family isn’t the most accepting right now, and I dunno. I guess this is just my way of trying to show them how much happier I am. How I wish things could be in the future. I don’t even know if any of them will see it.”

“Why wouldn’t they?!” Cynthia asked excitedly, “This is gonna be in the gallery, right? Cuz it should be!”

“I don’t know if any of them are gonna be coming to the gallery.” Rayne explained softly, “My parents said they were only invited if they could prove they could be supportive by then. That’s only giving them a week to rethink things.”

Ryan nodded in understanding. Cynthia frowned and looked like she wanted to say more.

“Why don’t we eat?” Ms. Mira asked, clapping her hands together.

Everyone agreed and Rayne went about carefully rerolling the painting before tubing and handing it off to Ms. Mira.

“I’m meeting with Berny tonight to give him all of the pieces you’ve chosen to present.” Ms. Mira explained as they each pulled out their lunch and took a place around the table.

“So how is this gonna work anyways?” Rayne asked between bites of her sandwich, “Am I gonna have to do an actual presentation?”

“No, nothing like that.” Ms. Mira replied with a light chuckle, “Honestly, it should actually be significantly easier than the showings.”

“Really?”

“Yup!” Ms. Mira went on to elaborate, “Up until now your judges have been people from the local art scene. They’re critics, curator’s, and other artists. Tomorrow, the attendees will be ordinary people, many of whom have no experience with art. They’ll likely still have questions, but it’s unlikely to be anything technical or difficult for you to answer.”

Rayne nodded in understanding, “And what about Sunday?”

“Ah, Sunday.” Ms. Mira said dramatically, “That’s the private event, right? There’ll be a lot of influential people from the greater Vancouver area there – in fact, I believe the mayor of Vancouver and even the Premier of British Colombia will be in attendance.”

“Th- the Premier?” Rayne asked, stunned by the revelation.

Ms. Mira nodded.

“But keep in mind Rayne, most of the people attending on Sunday will be just like those attending Saturday. They may have a passing interest in art, but they’re not critics. To be frank, many likely won’t even be interested in art.”

Rayne pondered that for a moment before slowly nodding, “Some of them’ll just be there for PR.”

“Exactly.” Ms. Mira confirmed, “Some will be politicians who’ll just be there as a show of support for the arts and local kids, but will have no interest in the arts themselves. Other’s genuinely will be interested, but again, not being critics, can be expected to ask relatively simple questions compared to what’s been thrown at you so far.”

“Thanks Ms. Mira.” Rayne sighed, “I’m feeling a lot better now. I hadn’t even realized how nervous I was.”

“That’s what I’m here for!” Ms. Mira declared with a bright smile, “Now, have you put any thought into entering your work into the art auction?”

“I’d like to.” Rayne replied slowly, “I could really use the money. I’ve been relying on my family too much for that.”

“You shouldn’t sell work that you want to keep just because you need the money!” Cynthia exclaimed dramatically.

“Why not?” Ryan countered, “Do you think professional artists can get away with keeping their work just because they don’t want to sell it? They have bills to pay.”

Rayne giggled and held up her hands to stop Cynthia from firing back.

“Relax, I’m not just doing it cuz’ I need the money.” Rayne explained, “To me, most of the meaning comes from the act of creating. I’m fine with selling them, but really, I doubt many people will be interested in buying.”

“Don’t sell yourself short Rayne,” Ms. Mira objected.

Rayne shook her head, “It’s not about selling myself short or not believing in myself, I’m just being realistic. It’s like you said, a lot of these people won’t even be interested in art. If they’re just there for appearances and PR, why bid on some kid’s painting?”

Cynthia and Ryan nodded in understanding, but Ms. Mira shook her head.

“You’d be surprised Rayne. Some of these people are representing large organizations. The individual may not be interested, but the organization might be. On top of that, even if someone isn’t interested in art, you never know when a piece might strike something deep inside them.”

Rayne blinked. She hadn’t thought of it like that.

“On top of that, because it’s for a good cause – many of these kids will be using the money from the auction to pay for post secondary education after high school – it wouldn’t be that surprising to see people get into a bidding war over an item.”

“I- I suppose.” Rayne finally relinquished the point, “I’m just trying to keep my hopes and expectations realistic.”

Really, she would be happy with a few hundred dollars.

She turned to Ryan and Cynthia, “So are you guys gonna come to the gallery?”

“Of course, we are!” Cynthia declared for both of them, drawing an eyeroll from Ryan.

“We can only come tomorrow though.” Cynthia continued with a huff, “Some stupid rule about Sunday being by invitation only.”

Rayne giggled at her friend’s indignation.

Soon lunch came to an end, and – after Rayne reequipped her mask – the students each moved on to their respective classes.
 

~o~O~o~

 
The day passed slowly, but it did finally come to an end, and Rayne arrived home. As she always did, she ascended to her room and put on some more suitable clothes. She descended to the main floor to sit at the kitchen table and plug through her homework. It was a long weekend, with Monday being Thanksgiving, but she would have little other time to hit the books between the art gallery taking place all day for the next two days and Monday’s festivities.
It wasn’t long before she heard the front door open.

“Hey Seb!” She called out, assuming it was her brother.

“Hey Squirt!” Her brother called back, confirming her suspicions.

“You ready for the weekend?” He asked, joining her in the kitchen.

“As ready as I’ll ever be!” She confirmed.

The siblings high fived as Sebastian went about getting an after-school snack. He set a bowl of grapes on the table for them to share and sat down with her to study.

“You were going to have a study party without inviting me?!” Evalyn exclaimed from the kitchen door with mock indignation. She joined them at the table and the three focused on their respective studies until dinner time, the only interruptions being to greet Jameson and Catalina as they each arrived home from their respective outings. The former being grocery shopping, the later being work.

Soon the table was being cleared and dinner was being served.

“So,” Catalina began as the family had taken their seats. “Let’s go over the plans for the weekend.”

“Honestly this time.” Jameson interjected, pointing a finger at Rayne teasingly.

The family chuckled.

“Tomorrow morning Ms. Mira is going to pick Rayne up and drive her to the gallery for 10:30. From my understanding it doesn’t open to the public until 12, but they need some time to set up.”

Rayne nodded an affirmation.

Catalina nodded and continued, “We’re planning to arrive in the evening, around 5 or 6 o’clock. We’ll spend the remainder of the showing with you, then maybe go out for a late dinner before coming home.”

“Why are we going so late?” Sebastian asked.

“Saturday is for anyone who wants to see the art.” Rayne stepped in to explain, “It’ll likely be more crowded during the day and I may not have much time to spend with you all. In the evening it’ll hopefully be a bit less busy. Plus, you guys are coming all day Sunday, and people can only get in Sunday if they have an invitation, so it should be much quieter.”

“But Sunday’s also when all the rich, powerful people’ll be there, right?” Evalyn piped up.

“Uh, I don’t know about rich and powerful,” Rayne contemplated, “But certainly influential. I’ve got butterflies in my tummy just thinking about it.”

The rest of the family chuckled while Rayne blushed.

“You’ll do fine princess.” Jameson assured her.

Rayne smiled in thanks before Catalina continued.

“Anyways, Sunday morning we’ll all get up and head to the gallery together. It runs from 11:00 to 5:00, after which we move over to a nearby banquet hall for a dinner with all the judges and any of the attendees who don’t have prior engagements.”

Rayne nodded. “That’s where we’ll have more time to mingle and visit with the judges and ‘rich, powerful people’” She finished sarcastically, looking at Evalyn.

Evalyn rolled her eyes and stuck out her tongue as the family chuckled at the good-natured teasing.

“Throughout the dinner,” Cataline resumed, “people will have opportunities to bid on the silent auction, after the dinner, from the information package we were emailed, it sounds like there will be a short ceremony, then the winners of the auction will be announced, then home.”

Rayne sighed, “I am looking forward to sleeping in on Monda-”

“Monday is another early morning.” Catalina interrupted, smirking at her youngest.

“Ugggggggh, Whhhhhhhhy?” Rayne groaned, throwing her head back dramatically.

“You,” Catalina began meaningfully, “Need to be up early to help me and Evalyn start preparing dinner.”

Rayne immediately stopped groaning and looked at her mother excitedly, “Really?”

Thanksgiving at their grandparent’s house always went a very specific way. The little kids would play, the woman and older girls would work together to make dinner, and the men and older boys would work on any repairs or yard work that needed to be finished before the first snows – assuming they hadn’t already come. If the men finished before dinner was ready, weather permitting, they’d have a game of football. Last year Raymond had been dragged along with the men.

“Of course.” Evalyn declared, winking at Rayne, “Us girls always make Thanksgiving dinner, it’s about time you started learning, and besides, there won’t be as many hands as usual. We’ll need the help.”

Rayne nodded excitedly.

“Alright.” Jameson said, looking around the table, “So we’re all on the same page? There’s going to be no surprises this time?”

Everyone nodded, and dinner resumed.

Once everyone was finished, the kids cleared the table and resumed their homework while Jameson and Catalina did the dishes and cleaned the kitchen.
 

~o~O~o~

 
Rayne’s heart hammered in anticipation.

The nerves had her hands trembling. She kept them balled into tight fists at her side. An attempt to hide the shakes.

She was standing in the art gallery, Ms. Mira at her side. In front of them was her display. It was much larger than any of the showings that had been building up to today. For the past month she had exhibited the same 5 pieces.

But today.

Today was different.

She had a large section of the gallery just for her work. Pieces spanning her entire – short – art career were on display. That was a large factor in her nerves. It was clear with a brief glance that some of her pieces were of a much lower quality.

Oh God. What if they decided she didn’t deserve her spot here? What if they kicked her out? What if-

No.

Rayne closed her eyes and took a long, deep breath. She reveled in the freeing feeling of her diaphragm slowly expanding to it’s fullest as she inhaled. She held the air in her chest for a long moment before slowly exhaling.

She had earned her spot here. She had proven herself. If anything, the lesser pieces were just evidence of how she had improved. How far she had come.

She opened her eyes and looked at her display again. She saw it in a different light now. These drawings, these paintings, they were her creations. Even the – in her eyes – bad ones, were hers. Each was a reflection of a piece of her. From the sketchbook full of silly doodles of her favorite video game characters, to the paintings of the manners of death. From her first, shoddy paintings to the rich, finely detailed portrait finished only days before. There was nothing to be ashamed of here. Nothing she would let herself be ashamed of.

An announcement came over the intercom.

“The gallery doors will be opening to the public in ten minutes. Please make any final preparations.”

“Rayne?” Ms. Mira asked, “Is everything okay?”

The nerves faded. Her balled hands opened, and her chest swelled with pride at how far she had come. Tonight, her family would see her work for the first time, and for once, she had no fears of disappointing them. She was at peace.

She turned to face her teacher.

“I’m good.” She said confidently, “I’m better than good. I’m ready.”

Ms. Mira broke into a smile, “Blow ‘em away.”

Rayne nodded and turned back to face her work again. Today was the day.
 

~o~O~o~

 
When the doors opened, Ryan and Cynthia rushed in and to her side immediately.

“Rayne!” Cynthia squealed, throwing her arms around the smaller girl. “You look beautiful!”

After she was released, Rayne took a look down at herself. She was wearing the red, pleated, ankle length skirt her mother had picked out the week before with a white blouse that her sister had chosen. The blouse had some lace around the neck and chest and the sleeves came just past her shoulders. On her wrists she wore an assortment of dangly bracelets. For footwear she had some simple brown sandals. Evalyn had tried to convince her to let her paint her nails, but Rayne had managed to assert herself, and had turned her down. She had insisted that it would be ruined by paints in a few days anyways so there was no sense in it. Finally, her hair was left hanging loose, but had been styled by her mother, it hung down over one shoulder and onto her chest.

As soon as she finished assessing herself, the barrage of questions began.

“Are you ready? Are you excited?! Are you nervous? You better not be nervous. Is your family coming? What about your extended family?! Did you ever find out if any of them were coming?”

Rayne just laughed.

“Jeeze, calm down Cynth.” Ryan sighed heavily, rubbing his brow.

“Oh shush.” Cynthia said, giving the other boy a playful shove. She turned back to Rayne. “I’m just so excited that you made it!”

Rayne giggled, “Me too Cynthia.”

Rayne looked up in the air in thought and began to answer Cynthia’s questions as she recalled them, counting them off on her fingers as she did so.

“Lesee. Very ready. Super excited. A little nervous, but good nerves. Family is coming tonight. Dunno about the rest of the family. Did I get them all?”

Cynthia giggled, “Yup! Now lemme take a look at the rest of your work!”

Rayne smiled and motioned the older girl towards the pieces waiting behind them.

Ryan stepped up next and – uncharacteristically for the boy – gave her a hug.

“Congratulations Rayne. Really. You deserved to make it here.”

Rayne blinked rapidly, “Th- thanks Ryan. I still think you guys both deserve to be here just as much as I do, but that means a lot to me.”

Ryan just smiled and stepped past her to join Cynthia.

From the moment the doors opened there was no flood of people. The displays weren’t constantly crowded, and the students were far from overwhelmed. Rayne didn’t know why she had been expecting anything else, this was a cumulation of the most talented student artists in the province, but at the end of the day they were still just student artists. None of them were famous, or at least not yet.

That was something that appealed to many of the guests who did come however, the novelty that they might meet the next great artist before they were famous.

Other’s came with their children, and some couples came to the event as a precursor to a date.

Some of the eliminated contestants – Rayne could have sworn she even saw Jane’s scowling face – came to see what else the finalists had created, and several teenagers who didn’t make it into the competition at all came just to see the difference in ability between those in the competition and themselves.

It was fairly steady all day, but it was definitely busiest in the early afternoon and evening. Ms. Mira had been right about it being much easier than the prior showings. The questions people asked her were so simple that it was kind of boring.

The student’s who didn’t make it into the showing at all asked how much time she spent working on her art.

A lot.

Some of the couples wanted to know how old she was, she looked younger than everyone else.

14.

Others wanted to know how she made such detailed pieces.

She tried to explain some of the techniques, but they just stared at her. Uncomprehending.

Children wanted to know if they could do what she does.

With lots of practice and devotion, yes, definitely.

Are you really only 14? That’s pretty young for this event, isn’t it?

Yes, to both.

Some of the boys saw the drawings in her sketchbook of videogame characters and wanted to chat about games.

She was happy to chat for a bit, but she wasn’t here to talk about video games. She would humor them, then gently usher them along.

One lady asked seemingly random questions, completely unrelated to art. She asked Rayne about school, her grades, her other hobbies, what she wanted to do when she grew up, and other questions. It made her a bit uncomfortable, but a glance at Ms. Mira told her it was nothing to be worried about. She answered to the best of her ability.

Are you actually 14? You don’t look that old. Did you really do these yourself?

Yes. Quite sure.

Whenever she wasn’t otherwise occupied with guests, Ms. Mira, Ryan, and Cynthia kept her company. The three of them would each disappear every so often to go look at the displays of other students, often bringing her back snacks or drinks, and they would step away to let her talk to any of the guests, but one of them was never far.

At 4:30 her family arrived.

“Evalyn!” Cynthia called out, rushing over to give Rayne’s older sister a hug, “How’s it going girl?!”

Evalyn laughed, “Fantastic! Finally get to see my genius little sister’s art for the first time!”

Rayne rolled her eyes as Cynthia stared back at her in shock.

“You’ve never shown your family your work? Ever?!” She asked, flabbergasted.

Ryan sighed heavily as he and Rayne caught up with Cynthia, “She told us this before Evalyn, remember? Before this event she basically only showed Ms. Mira anything she made.”

Cynthia put her finger to her chin and looked off into space thoughtfully.

“Oh right.” She finally said with a giggle.

Rayne and her family laughed, Ryan smiled and shook his head.

“So, I take it you’re Ryan, and from what I’ve heard of you, you’re obviously Cynthia.” Catalina began.

“Guilty.” Cynthia said dramatically. Ryan just nodded.

“I’m Jameson,” Jameson greeted, offering a handshake to each of them in turn, “This is my wife Catalina, and I take it you already know Seb and Eva.”

After greetings were exchanged Catalina pulled both of them into a hug.

“Thank you so much for looking out for our little girl.” She said quietly.

Ryan nodded awkwardly, as Cynthia laughed happily.

“I was so so happy,” Cynthia began as they separated, “to hear that all of you were okay with, um,” she paused to look around, before continuing in a loud whisper, “the thing.”

Rayne’s parents smiled and suppressed laughter at the girl’s attempt at subtlety. Evalyn just laughed. Ryan and Sebastian reacted similarly, smiling and shaking their heads. Rayne blushed and facepalmed.

“Anyways,” Ryan began, “We’ve been here all day, so now that you’re all here, we’ll take our leave. Let Rayne give you her mostly undivided attention.”

Cynthia frowned, but agreed a moment later. She gave both Rayne and Evalyn another tight hug before running after Ryan.

Rayne turned to look at her family.

“Those two are quite the characters.” Jameson observed, an amused smile still plastered on his face.

Rayne laughed. “You don’t even know the half of it. Remind me to tell you some stories at dinner.”

“Sure. At dinner.” Catalina agreed, “But for now we just want to see your work.”

Sebastian, who had been quiet until now, finally piped up, “Yeah, today has been so sloooooow, just waiting and waiting until it was time to go.”

Rayne giggled as she turned to lead them to her display. “I didn’t know you had any interest in art, Seb.”

“I don’t.” He declared with a shake of his head, “I have interest in your art.”

She blushed lightly and looked at her feet. She didn’t know how to reply to that.

“Before we continue, Rayne,” Her father began as they reached her area, “There’s something you should know.”

“What’s up Dad?” Rayne asked curiously, turning to look at her parents.

Jameson and Catalina shared a look before her father continued.

“Some more of our family might be coming.” He said gently, “That’s why we came earlier than we planned.”

“O- Oh.”

“If you’re not comfortable with that,” Catalina quickly added, “We’ll call them right now and tell them to turn around.”

Rayne bit her lip and stared at the floor for a long moment. Was she comfortable with that? Not really, but she wasn’t sure she’d ever be comfortable with it if she kept putting it off. They probably wouldn’t be totally comfortable meeting her either.

She turned to look at her work. If she kept avoiding them it would only make things worse. And right now. Right here. This was where she was her truest self. They would be able to see her, truly see her and who she was. Not just as the quiet introverted kid they had watched grow up, but as someone they could be proud of. Someone who deserved their respect, admiration, and most importantly, their love. If they couldn’t accept her here, then she couldn’t see how they ever would.

She turned back to see her father pulling out his cell phone and dialing a number.

“Don’t call them.” She said.

Her family turned to look at her.

“They can come.” She said confidently, “They can come and see me, and what I’ve created. I want them to, I just didn’t realize it until just now.”

Jameson slowly put his phone back in his pocket and nodded.

“Okay.”

“Now give us the grand tour, Picasso.” Sebastian demanded teasingly.

Rayne turned to look at him with a raised eyebrow.

“Picasso was a man, Seb.”

Her brother frowned, “Ms. Picasso?”

Rayne laughed, “Whatever, come on.”

She led them over to her works on the manners of death.

“These five are what I used as my portfolio.” She explained, gesturing to the five pieces displayed together, “They’re what got me here.”

She stood quietly as her family stared at her work.

“Sweetie,” Her father began slowly, eyes wide, “These are fantastic!”

“They really are, Rayne,” Seb agreed, awe leaking into his voice, “Why didn’t you ever share these with us before?”

Rayne just blushed and shrugged, “I dunno.”

It was a lie though. She did know. She had never had the confidence to share her work before. She wasn’t comfortable with it. The very idea would have scared her a year ago – hell, it would have scared her a month ago. On top of that her family had never seemed to have much interest or confidence in her ability. That attitude hadn’t exactly encouraged her to share. But now things were different.

“These are so amazing Sis’!” Evalyn commended her, “But I don’t understand one thing.”

“What’s that?” Rayne asked as Evalyn furrowed her brow.

“The title card.” Evalyn pointed at a small bronze plaque in front of the display. It was engraved:

The Manners of Death

By Rayne Danahy

In addition to that, each of the individual pieces also had a title card.

“That’s the name of all of them together, right?” Evalyn finished.

“Yup!” Rayne confirmed, “That’s the series title, then each individual piece has a title of its own.”

“Okay,” Evalyn nodded in understanding, “But what do these have to do with death? I mean, some of them are obvious, like the old man and the sick child, and the boat murder scene. But then there’s the car and the skyline. I don’t get what those have to add to the… to the theme.”

Rayne opened her mouth to explain, her mother beat her to the punch.

“The Manners of Death,” Catalina read aloud off the title card, “I can only assume this refers to the concept in forensic pathology of the same name that is used to classify the ways a person or animal has died.”

She looked to Rayne for confirmation. Rayne gave it with a nod.

Catalina continued, now in full lawyer mode, “Generally speaking, there are four classifications. Natural causes, accidental, homicide, and suicide. Natural causes include old age and terminal disease, so that explains the old man and the sick child.”

“And homicide explains the boat scene.” Sebastian chipped in.

Rayne smiled and nodded to confirm everything so far.

“Okay, so then that leaves accidental and suicide.” Jameson thought out loud, “Is the car scene supposed to be accidental death? Or is someone intentionally trying to get themselves killed?”

“What’s that?” Sebastian asked, changing the topic and pointing at the boat murder scene. “It looks like there’s something in the water.”

He leaned closer to get a better look.

“Is that supposed to be a reflection? It kinda looks like a skull.”

Rayne giggled, grabbing his attention.

“It’s both!” She declared.

The family looked at her, then each took turns leaning in to get a better look at the reflection.

They stepped back to look at the series as a whole again, each silently working on the puzzle.

“Oh!” Evalyn started, “There!”

She pointed at ‘A Solemn Guardian’.

“Reflected in the window!” She elaborated, “It’s kinda hard to see, but is that the…

“The grim reaper.” Jameson finished for her.

“Ahhhh,” Catalina mused, she turned to look at Rayne. “Very sneaky.”

Rayne smiled and covered her mouth, holding back a laugh.

Catalina turned back to the family,

“I’m willing to bet,” she said slyly, “That Rayne’s hidden the grim reaper somewhere in each of these. If we find them, we might be able to figure the rest out.”

Rayne watched happily as her family proceeded to play a short game of ‘Spot the Spirit of Death’. Now that they knew what they were looking for it didn’t take long. Jameson spotted the shadowed figure in ‘Patiently Waiting’ immediately. Sebastian and Evalyn each noticed the skull-shaped smog in ‘Silently Stalking’ independently, and then debated whether the car’s fumes were intentionally shaped like a skull or if it was a coincidence. Catalina chipped in, saying that if they couldn’t find anything else, then the smog probably wasn’t a coincidence. Sebastian and Evalyn agreed.

The family turned their eyes to the final image.

Catalina nodded immediately. “I think I’ve got it.”

“Don’t tell us!” Evalyn quickly ordered, “I wanna find it myself.”

They stared for a minute, then Jameson nodded, “Ahhhhh.”

Evalyn and Sebastian stared for another minute. Finally, Sebastian shrugged, “Okay I give. How about you Eva?”

She pursed her lips and furrowed her brow. “Fine.” She sighed, turning to their mother, “Where’s Death in this one?”

Catalina smiled and pointed at one of the two figures standing in the middle of the painting.

“Right there.” She declared.

“Whaaaaat?” Sebastian asked, “But that’s not hidden at all.”

Jameson laughed, “Rayne? Want to explain?”

“Sure thing Daddio!” Rayne agreed, stepping closer to the family. Jameson wrapped an arm around her shoulder, pulling her into his side and drawing a giggle from her.

“It’s just like Mom first said. These pieces are based on the forensic concept of the manners of death. Mom had it spot on when she identified ‘Patiently Waiting’, and ‘A Solemn Guardian’ as natural causes, and Seb was right about ‘Standing in Judgement’ being homicide as well. So like you said, that just leaves accidental death and suici-”

“OOOOOH.” Evalyn exclaimed in realization, interrupting her sister, “I got it.”

Rayne laughed as Sebastian groaned.

“Please,” He began, turning to Evalyn, “Enlighten me, oh wise one.”

Evalyn turned to Rayne in turn, “May I? Then you can tell us if we’re right or not.”

Rayne smiled and gestured to the display, “Be my guest. I’d actually prefer it this way!”

Evalyn smiled. “What’s different between suicide, and all the other manners of death?”

Sebastian just stared at her, uncomprehending.

“In all of them, the person who’s about to die probably doesn’t want to.” Evalyn explained, “They’re avoiding death.”

Understanding dawned in Sebastian’s eyes.

Evalyn continued, “But in suicide…

“The person wants to die.” Sebastian finished for her, “So death doesn’t need to hide from them.”

“Exactly.” Rayne confirmed.

“These are incredible baby,” Catalina praised, “And not just for the art – which is fantastic – but for the hidden message too.”

“Th- thanks.” Rayne mumbled, blushing.

“Shall we continue?” Jameson asked, arm still wrapped around Rayne’s shoulder.

She nodded and they turned towards another section of her work.

The next thing they looked at was her sketchbook. She had it placed on a podium where anyone who was interested could browse its contents. The contents ranged from detailed drawings to scribbles. Some pages were filled with unfinished works, whereas others were filled with practice for drawing figures or supposedly ordinary things.

Evalyn looked at her with a raised eyebrow, posing a silent question after they had flipped through five pages filled with nothing but drawings of human hands in a variety of positions.

Rayne shrugged and explained, “You’d be surprised at how difficult it is to draw a good hand. It’s one of the hardest things to draw well.”

Jameson nodded in confirmation. “I’ve heard that before. In school I rubbed shoulders with some of the artist types. People take their hands for granted, but they’re filled with so many moving parts that they’re actually quite complex.”

Rayne nodded. “That’s why quite often people will draw characters with their hands in their pockets or behind their back or just out of sight for some reason or another. Hands are hard.”

“Hence why you spend a lot of time practicing them.” Sebastian mused.

Rayne nodded and they continued through her sketchbook. They didn’t get very far before two familiar voices rang out.

“EVA! SEB!”

“Lizzie! You gotta be quiet!

The family turned around to see Lizzie running across the room, drawing the attention of quite a few of the other guests.

Her father, Rayne’s uncle Johnathan, ran behind her, trying to catch and silence her before she caused any more of a disturbance. He snatched her up into his arms right before she reached them.

The little girl laughed infectiously as Johnathan shushed her. Finally, the girl calmed down and looked at Rayne and her family. The little girl’s eyes passed over each of them before settling on Rayne with a curious stare. She stuck out her puny hand to point right at Rayne.

“Uncle Jamie? Is that really R-

Lizzie’s cheeks puffed out.

“Daddy says I can’t call her by her old name.” She explained before continuing, “Is that really my cousin?”

Rayne blushed but stepped forward, gently taking Lizzie’s still pointing hand in hers.

“Its really me.” She said quietly, after looking around to make sure no one was in earshot, she quietly continued. “Do you remember the movie we watched together with everyone a few weeks ago?”

Lizzie blinked thoughtfully, “The one about the boy who got to become a princess?”

Rayne giggled and nodded. They clearly remembered it a bit differently, but what mattered was that the little girl remembered.

“Yup! That one.” Rayne confirmed, “Well, I’m like the girl in the movie. I don’t want to be a boy anymore.”

“Oh! That makes sense.” Lizzie said in a tone that made it sound like the most natural thing in the world.

“So you’re okay with that Lizzie?” Rayne asked, “I’m still your favorite cousin?”

Lizzie giggled, “Of course silly, but does this mean you’re a princess?”

Rayne laughed, “Unfortunately no, I’m not a princess.”

Lizzie frowned. “Oh well. I’m not really a princess either, I jus like pretending.”

“Well I think you’d both make excellent princesses.” Johnathan declared playfully.

Lizzie smiled brightly before scrunching her face up thoughtfully.

“So why can’t I call you your name anymore?”

Rayne smiled, “Because I have a different name now. Do you wanna know what it is?”

Lizzie nodded eagerly.

“My name is Rayne.” Rayne introduced herself.

“Rayen?” Lizzie asked.

Rayne smiled, “Not quite. Rayne.”

“Ray-nuh.”

Rayne giggled, “Close enough.”

Johnathan laughed, “Oh no it’s not. C’mon Lizzie, Rayne. Like the weather.”

The little girls face lit up, “Ooooh! Rainy!”

Rayne burst into laughter as Johnathan shook his head in amused exasperation.

“Wanna know a secret Lizzie?” Rayne asked after she had gotten hold of herself.

Lizzie went wide-eyed and nodded.

“The only person who’s allowed to call me ‘Rainy’ is my bestest friend in the whole world.” Rayne looked around furtively, “But you’re my bestest cousin in the whole world, so you can too, okay?”

“Reaaaally?!” The girl asked in wonder.

“Really.” Rayne confirmed.

The conversation was interrupted by the sound of someone clearing their throat. Rayne looked to her right to see Berny standing a few feet away. Having caught their attention, he stepped closer.

“I’m sorry to interrupt,” He began warmly, “But while I love nothing more than seeing children excited about art, for the sake of the enjoyment of our other guests, I need to ask you to keep the noise down.”

He was clearly referring to when Lizzie had run squealing through the gallery mere minutes earlier.

He smiled warmly at the little girl, still holding hands with Rayne.

“Can you do that for me? Use your inside voice?”

Lizzie looked up at him and nodded.

“I’ll be as quiet as a mouse.” She whispered.

Berny laughed softly and winked at her, “Maybe not that quiet.”

Lizzie giggled as Berny turned towards Rayne’s parents.

“Hello, my name is Bernardo, but everyone calls me Berny. I was one of the judges of the competition. I take it you’re Rayne’s parents?” He offered a handshake, which Jameson took immediately.

“You are correct.” Jameson confirmed, “I’m Jameson, and this is my wife, Catalina.”

Berny shook Catalina’s hand as well.

“Thank you so much for keeping an eye out for our little girl.” Catalina said, smiling warmly.

Berny chuckled, “I really didn’t do that much.”

“I dunno,” Evalyn piped up, “From what Rayne’s told us, you calmed her down a few times when she was about to freak out or break down into tears.”

“Eva!” Rayne scolded her sister, blushing, “Sorry Berny, just ignore my sister there.”

Berny laughed. “I disagree… ‘Eva’? Was it?”

“Evalyn.” Evalyn introduced herself, reaching out to shake the old man’s hand.

“Evalyn.” Berny repeated her name to himself before continuing, “I disagree. I believe Rayne is much stronger than she gives herself credit for. I would not be alone in saying I expect great things from her.”

Rayne blushed and looked at her feet.

“Anyhow,” Berny continued, “I just wanted to introduce myself, we shall have more time to talk later, if not later tonight, then tomorrow at the dinner. You will be coming, correct?”

Rayne nodded.

Berny smiled and nodded back, “Then I’ll excuse myself, Rayne, as it looks like you have some visitors.”

Berny turned to leave as Rayne turned to look back towards where her uncle had been standing.

Next to him stood his wife, Rayne’s Aunt Lisa, looking decidedly less comfortable than her husband.

To her left stood Uncle Frank Danahy the Second, looking around awkwardly.

The final member, and perhaps most surprising visitor, was Rayne’s grandmother, Olivia. She looked the most out of place, wringing her hands in front of her with her lips slightly separated and spread tight. She was staring – almost fearfully – at Rayne.

“H- hi.” Rayne managed, hesitantly raising her hand in a wave. She felt more than saw her parents and sibling move to her back and sides, offering their support.

Olivia licked her lips. Lisa blinked rapidly. Frank seemed to make a point of looking anywhere but at her. None of them responded.

Rayne’s raised hand slowly balled itself into a fist and dropped to her side.

Johnathan pursed his lips and sighed. “Maybe this was a mistake.”

“N-no.” Rayne disagreed, “Or at least I hope it wasn’t.”

A long awkard silence passed between them.

“I- I made something.” Rayne said slowly, “To show you all. I don’t know if you’ll like it, hate it, or even remember it… But I made it for all of you, as well as Grandpa. I wasn’t sure if I’d even get the chance to show it to you, but now I get to. So, no matter how you react, no matter what you think, this wasn’t a mistake. Not to me. I’m glad you came.”

There was another awkward silence. None of them said anything.

Rayne bit her lip before stepping towards a corner of her section. She looked back over her shoulder to gesture for them to follow. Slowly, and with some urging from Johnathan, they did.

She led them to a large painting. The one she had spent all week pouring her soul into. She turned back to her family.

“I- I’m not good with words.” She said slowly, “I don’t know how to explain…”

She paused and bit her lip again. Finally, she gestured to herself.

“I don’t know how to explain all of this to you. I don’t know how to get you to understand that this is who I am, that this is me. I’m not trying to hurt any of you, and I’m not trying to make you uncomfortable. But I can’t-”

She stopped, her eyes were flicking around, trying to find the right words. Finally, she continued.

“I can’t live in pain anymore. I can’t live in constant discomfort, feeling like I’m suffocating, drowning, being crushed. I can’t do it just to make you feel better.”

She took a deep breath.

“If you can’t accept me with this,” She threw her hands up, “I don’t know what else I can do. I’ll just have to- we’ll ALL just have to accept that our relationship is gone. It’ll hurt. But what else can we do?”

None of the adults said anything, so Rayne just stepped aside and gestured to the painting she had been standing in front of. She crossed her arms over her chest and watched them. The rest of her family came to join them, for they too had yet to see this painting.

Rayne watched silently as they looked at it. Confused recognition was the first reaction, and it was a reaction that almost everyone shared. Rayne shuffled her feet nervously.

Olivia spoke for the first time.

“Th- This is,” She paused, glancing from the painting to Rayne and back again, “This is the picture we took. At the lake last summer.”

She blinked several times.

“I remember… Everyone was teasing you for not smiling.” She frowned, turning to look back at Rayne, “I didn’t think anything of it. You haven’t smiled very much since you were little. I always thought you just- I don’t know, didn’t like smiling.”

“For a long time, smiling was hard.” Rayne mumbled, looking at her feet.

Olivia stared at her grandchild for another moment before turning back to the painting.

Her aunt, uncle, and grandmother stared at the painting for several more minutes. Then, without a word, Olivia moved on. She moved to the next piece in the exhibit. It was a large water color painting of the lake near Rayne’s house. She had taken a picture from the rock where she always sat and had used it as a reference.

Olivia stood quietly and took it in.

Another long minute passed before the silence was broken by Lizzie’s laughter.

“Lookit Mommy!” She whispered, “It’s me!”

Everyone turned to look at where the little girl was pointing. Her chubby hand was pointing at a drawing of small girl. A girl that had an unmistakable resemblance to Lizzie.

Lisa gasped.

“I, uh,” Rayne began hesitantly, “I hope you don’t mind me using it in my exhibit.”

“Rayne.” Johnathan began, stepping closer to the drawing, “Of course we don’t mind! It’s beautiful. Right honey?”

Lisa just nodded, hands covering her mouth.

“Aunt Lisa?” Rayne asked.

Her Aunt turned to face her slowly.

“Um, if you’d like, after the event’s over tomorrow, you can have it. The drawing I mean.”

Aunt Lisa blinked rapidly, tears began to well in her eyes.

“And I’m not just saying that to try and win you over.” Rayne said light heartedly, “No matter what you think of me, if my work was able to get that kind of reaction from you, then you should have it. Plus, I mean, it is your daughter after all.”

Before anything further could be said, Rayne looked away. Some other guest had approached.

“Please excuse me.” She said politely, dipping her head slightly. She turned and stepped away, leaving her family behind to look at her work.
 

~o~O~o~

 
A small rush of guests prevented Rayne from returning to her family’s side for a short time. While she answered questions, and did her best to make a good impression on the various attendees, her family browsed her exhibit. Every now and again she would notice either her aunt Lisa, uncle Frank, or grandmother staring at her, but she did her best to not let it bother her.

Finally, an announcement rang out over the intercom.

“Thank you to everyone for attending, but the gallery will be closing shortly. Please make your way to the exit.”

Rayne turned to look at her family. Her grandmother was speaking quietly to Jameson. As she approached, they hugged, separated, and with a final glance at Rayne, Olivia, Frank, Lisa, Johnathan, and Lizzie departed.

Rayne took a deep breath.

“I have no clue if that went good or bad.” She declared as she joined them.

Catalina pulled her into a hug. “We’ll just have to wait and see. I, for one, think you were magnificent.”

“More than magnificent!” Evalyn insisted, throwing her arms into the hug as well.

Rayne giggled as she felt Sebastian and Jameson’s arms join them as well.

“I just wish we were more supportive earlier on.” Jameson said solemnly, “Then maybe we wouldn’t have had to wait so long to see what you were capable of.”

“So, uh, not to break up this touching family moment.” Sebastian began awkwardly, “But I’m starving.”

Everyone laughed.

“You big idiot.” Evalyn said teasingly, gently punching Sebastian’s shoulder.

“Dinner?” Rayne suggested after everyone had calmed down, “I’m pretty hungry too.”

Everyone agreed, and soon they were headed towards the exit. Rayne checked out with Ms. Mira, and invited her to join them for dinner. Her teacher politely declined and they promised they’d see each other bright and early the next day.

Moments later they were stepping out the doors and into the cool fall evening.

To Rayne’s surprise, her grandmother was waiting for them. Rayne’s aunt and uncles standing just a few feet away.

“O- oh!” Rayne started, surprised to see them again so soon, “Hi.”

Olivia smiled gently.

“Hello Rayne.” She said softly.

The sound of her name. Spoken by her grandmother. It caused her heart to flutter.

“I am,” Olivia began, looking down at her feet and shaking her head, “Ashamed.”

She returned her gaze to her granddaughter.

“I am so ashamed of myself. Of our whole family. For how we reacted. We’re the adults. We’re supposed to be the ones who look after you. Who teach you. Who care for, and nurture, you. And when you needed us, we failed you. We had to wait for you to teach us. Can you ever forgive me?”

Tears were flowing freely down Olivia’s cheeks, not that Rayne could see, however, as she was blinded by her own tears.

“Grandma.” Rayne cried, running to throw her arms around the older woman’s waist, “I missed you so much.”

“I am so sorry.” Olivia whispered into her ear.

Lisa and Frank approached slowly. When grandmother and granddaughter finally separated, Rayne turned to them.

“We’ve been fools.” Frank declared. “But you opened our eyes. Can we try and patch things up? Can we have another chance?”

“Of course.” Rayne sobbed, moving to hug each of them in turn, “We’re family after all.”

“You need to come to Thanksgiving.” Olivia declared. “I won’t have our family split up for the holiday, and I need to pass down the family recipes to all of my granddaughters.”

Rayne blinked rapidly and bit her lip, she glanced at her parents.

“We were going to do our own Thanksgiving. We invited my best friend’s family.”

“They can join us.” Olivia offered quickly, “Please, I don’t want to miss any more time with my grandchildren because of my foolishness.”

“W- What about Grandpa Frank?” Rayne asked hesitantly.

“Your grandfather is being a damned fool of an old man.” Olivia declared adamantly, “He won’t say a single meanspirited word if he knows what’s good for him, and if he does then we’ll go to your Aunt Lisa’s and Uncle John’s without him.”

Rayne couldn’t help but smile at her grandmother’s gumption. She looked to her parents for guidance.

Catalina just whispered, “It’s up to you sweetie.”

Jameson nodded his approval.

Rayne turned back to her grandmother.

“Okay Grandma. We’ll be there.”

Rayne glanced back to her family, everyone was smiling.

“I think we were going to go out for dinner.” Rayne said, looking at her grandmother again, “Would you, Uncle Frank, Aunt Lisa, and Uncle John like to join us?”

“We already ate dear,” Olivia replied, “You go have fun with your family, I’ll see you at Thanksgiving.”

Another hug was exchanged, and Rayne rejoined her parents and siblings.

“I think that answers your question of whether or not it went well.” Jameson lightheartedly declared as they walked across the parking lot.

Rayne smiled and nodded.

“So, where we goin’ for dinner?” Sebastian asked, changing the topic.

“Do you ever stop thinking about food?” Evalyn asked, rolling her eyes.

Rayne laughed as she got into the van, and soon they were on their way. A nice family dinner later, they were on their way home for the night. On the drive, Rayne called Logan to tell him about the change of plans and make sure it was okay. Once home, Rayne wasted no time in heading up to her room. She laid out her clothes for the next day, and dressed for bed. Sleep came easily, and peacefully.



Greeting and salutations.

Flummox here.

First of all, a belated Merry Christmas and Happy New Year. I hope everyone’s holiday seasons were wonderful, whether you celebrate Christmas or not.

Now.

Oh. My. Gosh.

This took me way to long to get edited.

Ugh. Sorry. I’m always very busy this time of year. Between work, family and friends visiting from out of town, and other commitments, I just haven’t had a lot of free time. I originally planned for this to be out by Christmas. Missed that. Then I aimed for New Years. Missed that too.

But it’s here now.

I am just very bad at time management. Even when I’m not busy.

I know people will tell me not to get stressed out and not to worry about it, but I’m still sorry.



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