A Blank Page - Chapter 3


A Blank Page
Chapter 3
By Flummox


Raymond sighed heavily as he walked in the door. Well, he had gotten through Monday relatively easily. Unsurprisingly after Sebastian’s confrontation with Derek on Friday, the bullies seemed a bit less eager to target him. It was a welcome relief. He knew it wouldn’t last long, it never did, but for the time being he could just keep to himself and focus on trying to get in shape.

Looking at his phone for the time, Ray saw that he had a text message. It was from his online friend Bunny. Being relatively close both geographically and in age, Ray and Bunny had exchanged phone numbers the day Ray was given his first phone. Bunny was basically the only person outside Ray’s immediate family that he used his phone to talk with.

Unlocking his phone, Ray flipped to his messages.

Heya Rayny! How’re the skies today?

Ray couldn’t help but smile. It was a running joke between the two. Ray’s screen name when he was online was ‘RaynyDayz’, so for as long as they had known each other Bunny would always greet him with questions about the weather.

Depressingly sunny.

Ray sent his reply. Most people would consider a sunny day like today wonderful, and while the sun didn’t truly bother Ray, he had loved the rain for as long as he could remember.

A moment later his phone buzzed.

Lol! So wht r u up 2?

Not too much. Just got home from school. How about you?

Ray sent his reply. Bunny and his siblings always teased him about his texting. Unlike most teenagers, Ray hated the shortening of words in messages. It just felt weird to him. Maybe it was because of all the time he had spent reading, but the word ‘are’ was spelt ‘are’. Not ‘r’. ‘You’ was ’you’ not ’u’, and so on.

Lol just signing on. Wanna play?

Oh man, did Ray ever want to play. After a long day of school, he would have liked nothing better than to join his friend for some gaming, but he had plans with his brother. Frowning, Ray typed out a reply.

Sorry Bunny, I have plans with my brother. Maybe later? :(

At this point Ray had made it to his room on auto pilot. He sat down at his desk, figuring he might as well get some homework done in the half hour before Sebastian got home. He had promised his parents he’d try harder after all.

*bzz* Ray looked at the message.

Lol k. have fun, I might be on l8r. dunno. Ttyl.

Ray took one last longing look at his TV and game consoles in a corner of his room. With a heavy sigh, he adjusted his glasses, and opened his biology textbook.

 

~o~O~o~

 

“Alright, you ready?”

Ray nodded nervously. He and Sebastian stood outside the house, they were getting ready to go for a ‘light jog’ as Sebastian put it.

They had just finished some stretches and easy exercises to get themselves warmed up. Sebastian insisted proper warmup was important.

“Hey, relax squirt.” His brother reassured him, noting his nervousness, “Here’s what we’re gonna do. First, we’re gonna walk for five minutes, then we’ll do an easy jog for two. Then we’ll walk for 5 more, jog for 2. Walk 5, jog 2. Rinse and repeat. Easy-peasy, super straight forward. As we do this every day, you’ll develop more and more stamina, and you’ll be able to run for longer periods of time.”

“O-okay, if you say so.”

“I do say so.”, His brother declared confidently, “And I’ll tell ya what, while we’re walking, we can talk about whatever you want. Video games, your latest book, you name it.”

Ray smiled as they started walking, and started to tell Sebastian all about the game he was playing, and how he just couldn’t beat this one boss.

Sebastian walked beside him, smiling and listening, having a good-natured laugh here or there at his brother’s frustration.

Sebastian’s stopwatch beeped, interrupting his brother and signaling the end of the five minutes.

Without a word, Sebastian just picked up the pace, bringing the duo into a jog. Not too fast, not too slow, just enough to work up a sweat.

Ray stopped talking, focusing purely on his breathing and where he was placing his feet. Before he knew it, the stopwatch beeped again and Sebastian slowly brought them back down to a walk.

“So, do you still play online with that rabbit guy?” Inquired Sebastian as Ray regulated his breathing.

After a moment, Ray replied, “Oh, Bunny? Yeah, we play all the time. He was just texting me an hour ago, actually. I play different games with him though.”

“Oh! You were texting him?” Sebastian asked with a raised eyebrow. “Isn’t that kinda weird? You don’t even really know the guy after all.”

“What? Sure I do.” Ray replied, “We’ve been playing together and talking for years. I think I know him pretty well!”

“I mean yeah, I guess,” Sebastian remarked, “But,” Sebastian paused, contemplating his next words, “You don’t even know his real name or what he looks like. Right?”

“I suppose.” Conceded Ray, “But we enjoy each others company. Isn’t that all that matters in a friendship?”

“I guess, but how do you know he’s not, like, a 40-year-old man looking to take advantage of you?” Sebastian teased.

“Hey!”

The brothers laughed as the stopwatch beeped again.

 

~o~O~o~

 

And so they went, talking and teasing each other as they walked and ran around the neighbor hood. Before Ray knew it, an hour had gone by and they were arriving back at home.

“Okay Squirt,” Sebastian began, “You did great today, but that was just the beginning. We have a long way to go yet, and exercise is just half the battle.”

“Hey boys!” Their mother said, interrupting their conversation as she pulled up in her car and rolled the window down. “What are you two up to?” she inquired. Sebastian was normally outside at this hour, but Ray usually just stayed up in his room, playing games or reading.

“Oh, me and Ray were just out for a run.” Sebastian said, playing it off like it was no big deal.

“Ray and I.” Ray corrected.

“Oh shut-up.” Said Sebastian, playfully smacking the back of Ray’s head.

All three of them laughed at this, but Catalina found the idea of Raymond outside his sanctum, VOLUNTARILY, shocking.

Raymond? Out for a run?

“Well you two had best go get showered. I don’t want to have to smell two sweaty teenagers at dinner.”

“Yes ma’am” they chorused simultaneously, prompting more laughter.

 

~o~O~o~

 

After getting out of the shower and drying off, Sebastian called Ray into his room.

“Okay, so as I was saying outside, exercise is only half the battle.” Sebastian said, picking up from where he had left off, “The other half is-

“Food.” Ray finished for him.

“Exactly. You need to watch what you eat. That’s why I called you in here. I wanted to have this talk before dinner.” Sebastian explained, “Now you don’t have to starve yourself, you don’t even really need to go on a diet. You just need to make smarter food choices, and learn portion control. At dinner tonight, don’t over do it. As you eat, be mindful of your stomach. When you feel comfortable, stop. Then, just try not to have any other snacks tonight.”

Ray nodded. All of that seemed fair.

“Ray.” Sebastian said, suddenly serious, “If you can do what we just talked about, and if we keep exercising every day like we did today, then I guarantee you we will see results by the end of the school year. Then, in the summer, we can go to the lake. Every day. I know your love of the water isn’t limited to the rain, right?”

“Yeah.”

“Well,” Sebastian continued, “Swimming is another great source of exercise. By the end of the summer, you could look completely different.”

Ray’s heart began to beat. This. This was what he wanted. He could do it. He would do it.

Seeing the determination in his brother’s eyes, Sebastian clasped him on the shoulder. “Alright then. Let’s go eat.”

 

~o~O~o~

 

That night, at dinner, Ray carefully filled his plate with each item, looking over at Sebastian for approval as he did so. Sebastian mostly nodded, but gave the smallest shake of his head at the amount of meat Ray initially grabbed. Ray adjusted the amount, and Sebastian nodded his approval.

“Alright. What’s going on with you two?” Their sister Evalyn inquired suspiciously as they all sat down at the table.

“Oh, why whatever do you mean my dear little sister?” asked Sebastian, maybe a little too innocently.

“You two have acted weird from the moment you got home from school.” Exclaimed Evalyn, eyeing her brothers slyly, “I wanna know what you’re up too.”

“Why would you think we’re up to anything my dear big sister?” asked Ray, imitating his older brother’s innocent tone of voice.

This elicited a round of laughter from the family.

“If you must know,” Began Raymond, “Not that it’s any of your business” he continued teasingly, causing Evalyn to roll her eyes, “I’ve asked Seb to help me get in shape.”

Evalyn squealed joyfully, “Oh I’m so happy to hear that! My friends are already always asking about my ‘hunky older brother’, I can’t wait for them to start asking about my ‘dreamy younger brother’ too!” She said excitedly.

The family laughed some more.

“Dreamy?” Sebastian inquired with a raised eyebrow, “Why is he dreamy and I’m hunky? Hunky make’s it sound like I have no brains.”

“Well Seb,” Evalyn began, “He’ll be dreamy because of how quiet and mysterious he is, a lone wolf, spending his time reading books and making beautiful art!” it was beginning to sound like she was describing a character from a romance novel, “and Seb? maybe the reason it sounds like you have no brains it because you really DON’T have any brains.” She finished.

More laughter from all.

“Beautiful art?” Sebastian retorted, “How would you know? He doesn’t show any one! They could be hideous for all you know.”

“He doesn’t need to.” Evalyn replied smartly, “Every semester his art teacher says that he’s years ahead of the rest of his class, and that the only thing he could really improve on would be being more generous about who he shares his work with. With comments like that anything he makes MUST be beautiful”

Sebastian nodded grudgingly. He didn’t have any comeback to that as he knew it was true. He had seen Ms. Mira’s comments.

“Thanks for the vote of confidence Eva,” Raymond replied after everyone had calmed down, “But you’re exaggerating.”

“What make’s you say that?” His older sister asked sincerely, “I’m not kidding Ray, if you lose a bit of the baby fat you’ll be really handsome! Combined with your absolutely gorgeous hair? Women will be all over you. It’ll do wonders for my popularity.” She finished jokingly.

“Gorgeous hair?” Ray asked incredulously, “You’ve gotta be pulling my leg now, my hair is hideous.”

“WHAT?!” Evalyn gasped dramatically, “How could you SAY that? I am, like, SO jealous of your hair. It’s such a unique color, and ugh,” she moaned, “It’s soooo healthy and naturally straight. I spend soooo much time ironing my hair. Achieving this look isn't easy...” She said, flicking her hair back off her shoulder for effect.

The rest of the family chuckled at her antics.

“What?” she asked, “I’m serious. Your hair is beautiful.”

Ray smiled, “Well thanks I guess.”

Maybe he had been wrong about his hair all along. Maybe it had just been his insecurities telling him it was ugly. Evalyn wasn’t usually one to lie to someone to make them feel better.

“You really just need to start doing something with it.” She continued.

“Doing something?” Ray asked, unsure of what she meant.

“Yeah lil’ bro!” she continued to elaborate, “You always leave it just hanging around your face, all loosey-goosey, it’s always covering your eyes, which are also beautiful if I might add, you should really try tying it back in a pony tail, or a man-bun, or oooooh ooooooh a braid! You would look GREAT with a braid!”

“A braid?” he asked sceptically, unsure if he liked where this was going, “Aren’t braids just for little girls?”

“I think,” his mom began, joining in on the conversation, “That a man with long hair looks great in a braid. They are most certainly not just for little girls. In fact,” she continued, turning to look at their father mischievously, “Your father’s braid was one of the things that attracted me to him.”

“WAIT WHAT?” Sebastian exclaimed, “DAD HAD LONG HAIR?!”

Jameson just groaned and face palmed, “Why did you have to bring that up? It was a long time ago. We were in college, everyone had long hair then.”

Everyone except Jameson found this hilarious. He looked back up at his kids and wife with annoyance. With all of them laughing so hard, he couldn’t help but smile and join in.

After everyone had calmed down and taken a few more bites of their meals, the conversation began to pick up again.

“After dinner,” Evalyn began between bites, “You're coming up to my room,” she said, pointing at Raymond. “We’re gonna see what we can do with your hair to make it look FABULOUS.”

An invite to enter his sister’s sacred domain? That was rare. As varied as their interests were, Ray and Evalyn rarely spent any time together.

“Okay,” he agreed, “But I can’t be too long. I have some homework I still need to finish.”

That brought a smile to his parents’ faces.

“All joking aside though, Ray,” his father began, “I can’t tell you how happy me and your mother are to see you putting more of an effort into your studies.”

Everyone was looking at Ray expectantly as he swallowed his food, cleared his throat, and wiped his mouth with a napkin.

“I believe, Father,” Ray began, in as serious a voice as he could muster, “That you meant to say, ‘Your mother and I’”

“Oh you little smartass!” his father exclaimed as the family broke into another fit of laughter

 

~o~O~o~

 

A short time later Ray found himself following Evalyn up the stairs, past his own room, and into hers. She kept her door closed at all times, claiming that “A girl needs her privacy”. Ray couldn’t remember the last time she invited him in, but sure enough, she opened her door and ushered him inside, motioning for him to take a seat in front of her vanity.

Her room was very... pink. He tried not to gawk too much, but he couldn’t help but notice how different it was from his own room. Her windows actually had curtains, which she had opened just enough to allow the first rays of light to shine through every morning. Her bed was tidily made, and her floor was completely clear. In the corner of the room stood a hamper for clothes, with a lacy pink bra hanging over the edge.

Seeing his sister’s intimates, Ray immediately felt uncomfortable. He could not deny, however, that he felt a strange curiosity at the sight. He took a seat at her vanity, as told, glad he wouldn’t have to see the lingerie. He looked at himself in the mirror, wondering what she was going to do to make his hair look ‘fabulous’ as she had said. He immediately noticed that he could clearly see the bra in the mirror over his right shoulder.

His sister in the mean time had grabbed a hairbrush and some hair ties, and was pulling up a stool to sit behind him.

He occupied himself with looking at all the different vials and bottles all over the vanity, wondering what purpose each of them served.

His sister began to brush his hair. He had brushed it that morning, as he always did, but over the course of the day some tangles and knots had inevitably formed. His sister gently but firmly worked them out, all the while gushing about how beautiful his hair was. He was actually starting to believe that he had been wrong. He still didn’t think his hair was as beautiful as she claimed, but it certainly wasn’t as ugly as he had thought either. Soon she was parting his hair into three separate strands, and soon began weaving them back and forth, moment’s later she had drawn his hair into its first ever braid.

“Hmmmm,” she mused, scrutinizing her work, “It looks good, but it’d look even better if your hair was longer.” She decided, and quickly began unraveling her work, “Maybe we’ll try again in a few more months.” Next, she tried putting it in a man-bun. The problem with that was that his hair was so fine and straight it kept just slipping undone. Finally, she tried a simple ponytail while mumbling something about how boring ponytails were. It wasn’t what she had wanted to do, but the ponytail served its purpose and pulled Ray’s hair out of his eyes.

It felt… weird. Not having his face surrounded by his hair. It was kind of freeing, but it also made Ray very self-conscious, something that wasn’t a big deal at home, but could be at school.

After promising her he’d consider wearing one to school, Evalyn banished Ray from his short stay in the realm of femininity.

Returning to his room, he sat down at his desk, so different from the vanity, and looked around his room. Where curtains framed his sister's window, he had plain white blinds that were perpetually kept down, keeping the sunlight out. His own bed was a mess that he rarely made, preferring to just crawl in and out each morning, no matter what state it was in. While laundry, books, papers, and video game cases littered his floor, hers had been spotless.

He had never really thought about it before, but his room seemed rather shabby in comparison to hers. Despite having very little in common with his athletic older brother, Ray’s room actually looked akin to Sebastian’s, which struck him as odd.

He turned his attention back to his homework. Considering he had actually made an effort to pay attention in his classes that day, the assignment seemed much simpler then usual and he had it done in half an hour. Checking the time, Ray noted it was only 7:45, and he had some time to kill before bed. He pulled out his phone and shot Bunny a text message.

You still online?

A moment later his phone buzzed.

Had 2 go 4 din. I’ll b back soon tho.

Okay cool, talk to you then.

Ray replied, booting up his Xbox. He stood up and began to clean his room, putting games and books on his bookshelf, and papers in a neat pile on his desk. He didn’t have a hamper or basket for his clothes, so he decided that tossing them in one pile would have to do for now. He had made a bit of progress when his TV pinged, and a small message popped up notifying him that KiLLerBuNNy was online and would like to play.

Raymond sat down on the floor, leaning against his bed, picked up his controller, and booted up Borderlands 2. Putting on his headset he heard the familiar ever-cheerful voice of Bunny, “RaynyDayz! Ma man! How’s the weather?!”

Smiling, Ray replied, “Despite the clear skies, it’s been a good day Bunny. A really good day.”

A short time later Ray was completely immersed in the wild world of Pandora, the wasteland planet in which the game took place.

 

~o~O~o~

 

The next few weeks went by relatively peacefully. In fact, they were two of the best weeks of Ray's school year, he mused. He continued running every night with Sebastian. They raised the difficulty the second week, opting for a repeating pattern of walk 5, jog 3. Ray was even starting to enjoy their runs; it had quickly become one of the highlights of his day. His sister even convinced him to wear his hair in a ponytail one day. Only one day though, as it seemed to attract some attention, and that was the last thing he wanted.

He was already noticing changes. Just in the way he felt. He was still miserable in gym class; it just wasn’t the same with Mr. McMan. Sebastian motivated him to keep going through their mutual love for each other and their bond as siblings. Mr. McMan tried to motivate him through shame and humiliation. Art Class continued as his favorite class, but he was finding that all the time he had spent reading books hadn’t been as much of a waste as some people had said. Now that he was paying attention and doing his homework, his English Literature class was becoming a breeze. He was even beginning to get all his English and Math homework done in school.

In art, Ms. Mira had told the rest of the class about the art gallery event. While many students feigned interest in the idea of making some easy money off of their school work, Ms. Mira made it perfectly clear that she wouldn’t make a recommendation for just anyone, and that they would need to truly impress her. The students began competing to see who could earn a recommendation first. So far, no one in the 8th grade other than Ray had. Ms. Mira had posted a list on the wall of her recommendations for each grade, much to Ray’s annoyance. Several of the other art students kept pestering him, requesting to see his work so they could gauge the level of standard they would have to meet. Some asked if he would help them on their own work. Two even had the nerve to ask if they could submit his work as their own! Of course, he had refused all of their requests. After all, why should he help any of them? They had never shown an interest in being his friend before. Why had these people who had shunned Ray for so long suddenly befriended him? The fact they just wanted to use him, like so many others had done to get close to Sebastian or Evalyn in the past, was quite clear in his mind. Ms. Mira thought the situation rather amusing, or at least she did until she caught some students trying to sneak into Ray’s art locker. Suffice to say, those students would never be so foolish as to try such a thing again.

Finally, Friday arrived. Ray was looking forward to getting home and getting his homework done. Then he would have the weekend to himself! It had been a few weeks now since he had found himself with a free weekend. He wasn’t planning on wasting this one! He knew that there was a family outing happening on Sunday, but Saturday, at least, he could do whatever he wanted.

 

~o~O~o~

 

Arriving home around 4:00, Ray went about his usual routine, climbing the stairs to his room and putting his bag on his desk. Rather than pull out his school books, however, he booted up his Xbox and went to see who was online. Not surprisingly, Bunny was there. He almost always was at this time of day.

After a sending a quick invitation to chat, Bunny’s voice rang through the headset.

“Hey Rayny! How’s the weather?!” came the customary greeting.

Soon the two were having a casual conversation as they slaughtered bandits and alien monsters alike.

“Sooooo,” Bunny began, hesitating slightly, “My father received a promotion at work.”

“Oh yeah?” Ray replied, finding the comment odd as the two rarely spoke in detail about their families. He knew that Bunny was an only child, but he didn’t know what his father’s promotion had to do with him.

“Yeah, apparently, we’re moving this summer or shortly after.”

There was a long pause.

As they had never really met, one might think that neither would care about such a move, but a big part of their online friendship relied on the fact that they lived in the same time zone. The ramifications of moving might make it very difficult to meet online, and both teenagers realized that fact.

“Where to?” Ray inquired. Maybe it wouldn’t be that bad. Maybe he was just moving a few states over and they’d still be able to play fairly regularly.

“I don’t know yet. But it would likely be an international move. Could be somewhere overseas.”

So much for that hope.

“O-oh. I see.” Ray replied, his good mood crushed.

The duo went back to the game for a while, an awkward silence hanging over them. Before long Ray heard the front door open and close, signaling his brother’s arrival home from whatever sport he had played with his friends that day.

“RAY,” he called, “You ready for our run?”

“Hey, sorry Bunny,” Ray said, breaking the silence, “but I gotta go for a bit. Will you be on later?”

“You know it Rayny!” came his friend's voice, the usual cheerfulness creeping back in, “and hey, when I find out where we’re moving you’ll be the first to know.”

“Okay, cool.” Ray said, ending the conversation as he shut down the system.

 

~o~O~o~

 

The rest of the night went peacefully, Ray and Sebastian went for their run, and, pleased with his progress, Sebastian announced that starting the next week they would move up to jogging for 4 minutes at a time. Upon arriving home, they had an early dinner, with the family discussing Sunday's plans.

On Sunday, they would be making the two-hour drive to Vancouver, where they would have a large family dinner with their grandparents, aunt, and uncles. Some of their cousins would likely even be there. It was uncommon to see the entire family together in one place at the same time, so they liked to take advantage of it when they could.

Saturday passed uneventfully, and before Ray knew it, he was crawling out of bed on Sunday to get ready for the long drive. At Evalyn’s insistence he tied his hair back in a ponytail after breakfast, and soon the five of them had all piled into his father’s van and they were on their way.

 

~o~O~o~

 

Pulling up to their grandparents’ house, the family eagerly exited the van and took a much-needed stretch. Together, they walked up to the door. Evalyn was reaching for the door when it opened, their grandmother, who had clearly been watching for them, had a huge smile on her face.

“Oh, there they are!” She announced eagerly, spreading her arms wide for a hug from each of them, before ushering them in.

“Looking ravishing as always Evalyn, and you're getting more and more handsome every day Sebastian. And is that little Raymond?! I barely recognized you without your hair in your eyes!” She gushed in greeting.

“Hey Grandma”, the kids said, each thanking her in turn for her compliments.

“Hi Mom” Said Jameson, leaning down to give his mother a hug.

“Hello Olivia” Said Catalina, finally having her chance to embrace her mother in-law.

“Hey kids!” Came a gruff older voice from the next room. Rounding the corner came their grandfather, offering at firm handshake to all the boys, and a hug and a kiss on the cheek to the girls.

“Grandpa!” the kids eagerly greeted their grandfather, Sebastian returning the handshake, and Evalyn the hug and kiss. Ray shook his grandfathers hand, hugging him afterwards as well, to which his grandfather just sort of patted him on the back awkwardly.

Olivia Danahy was an older woman. She had just turned 70, but you wouldn’t know it by looking at her. She was often told she looked much younger and it was clear that time had favored her. Few would guess that she was actually two years older than her husband. She had dark brown hair that was just starting to grow in grey, and the same bright blue eyes as Jameson and Sebastian, making it clear who they had gotten that trait from. She had worked as a nurse for years and had always kept herself healthy, perhaps that was why she had aged so well. Now she mostly did volunteer work, if anything.

Frank Danahy was a tall man with wide shoulders. After retiring from construction, where he had worked his whole life, he had the smallest hunch to his back. He had once kept himself clean-shaven, but as he had grown older he had slacked off a bit and could usually be seen with some stubble. He had short grey hair, brown eyes, and wrinkles around his eyes and at the edges of his lips from a lifetime spent smiling and laughing.

“Come in come in,” Olivia ushered, “Give me your coats. I’ll hang them up. Your Aunt Lisa and Uncle John will arrive shortly, and your Uncle Frank just stepped out for some drinks for you kids.”

“Are JR and Billy coming too? How about Lizzie and Mac?” Sebastian asked. They hadn’t seen their cousins since Christmas.

“Lizzie and Mackenzie will be arriving with your Aunt and Uncle, as for the boys… No, they’re not coming.” Answered Frank, eliciting a frown of disappointment from Sebastian, “Because they’re already here!” he finished with a laugh.

He pointed to the window, and sure enough, their cousins could be seen wrestling in the backyard.

Sebastian, of course, immediately headed out to see them. Evalyn and Raymond followed behind, less enthusiastic than their older brother, but still happy nonetheless.

As they walked out the door, they couldn’t help but laugh as the brothers tackled Sebastian to the ground. He was older and stronger than either of them, but together, the two of them could give him a challenge. Soon the sounds of laughter filled the air.

Finally, they let Sebastian up, and turned their eyes on Raymond. Clearly planning the same thing, they ran towards him, only for him to duck behind his older sister.

“Heeeey.” She complained, “Aren’t you suppose to protect your sister?”

“Haha, Ray’s hiding behind a giiiiiiirl” one of the boys teased, the other echoing him a moment later. The various comments caused Ray to blush furiously.

“C’mon guys, knock it off,” interjected a still smiling Sebastian. “You should know by now that Ray doesn’t play as rough as you guys.”

After some grumbling, they admitted that they knew what Sebastian had said was true, and, imitating their Grandfather, offered a handshake in greeting instead of a tackle.

Evalyn, of course, demanded hugs.

JR and Billy were 11-year-old twin boys, just a few years younger than Raymond. JR was older by a minute, and as the eldest son of the eldest son, had inherited the name Frank. Having an Uncle Frank and a Grandpa Frank was confusing enough as it was, so everyone had always simply called the youngest of the three Junior. As Junior had gotten older, however, he had started insisting that everyone call him JR as he considered ‘Junior’ to be too babyish. Both of the twins loved sports, pro-wrestling particularly now, and always wanted to try to pull off the moves, usually just on each other. If either Sebastian or Ray were around, however, they instantly became the new target.

Evalyn and Ray sat down on the patio as their big brother was once again tackled to the ground. Sebastian never seemed to mind though; on the contrary, he seemed to love it. As much as he loved his cousins and older brother, seeing Sebastian having so much fun with them always bothered Ray. It always made him wonder if his big brother would have been happier if he had someone other than Raymond for a younger brother. Sure, the two of them had always gotten along, but they had so little in common. Sebastian loved athletics- there was nothing he’d rather do, while Ray, on the other hand, would rather do just about anything else. There were a few times- when Ray was younger- that Sebastian had taken him out and tried to teach him how to catch or hit a baseball, as older brothers tend to do with younger brothers. Raymond had never really enjoyed it, but he had always idolized his brother and would happily tag along, even if he never seemed any good at whatever his brother showed him.

A moment later, the sound of the door opening, followed by a loud squeal, pulled Raymond from his thoughts.

Turning to look at the door, he identified the source of the noise.

“RAAAAAAAAY!” Screamed his little cousin Lizzie, flying towards him, arms spread wide to deliver a big hug, or at least as big of a hug as a 5-year-old girl could muster.

She slammed into him, wrapping her arms around him in an embrace that he happily returned. Behind her, her older sister Mackenzie strolled casually to the deck.

“C’mon Lizzie,” she said, sounding annoyed, “Leave Raymond alone. You’re bothering him.”

Mackenzie Robertson was 15 years old, and had an attitude. She had the same height that ran in the family, and her father’s bright blond hair and blue eyes. She always acted like she was superior to all of her cousins, and Ray couldn’t remember a time when she had gotten along with any of them.

Elizabeth “Lizzie” Robertson was the complete opposite. Always happy to see everyone, with an infectious smile that she never seemed to leave home without. She had the same blond hair as her sister- done up in pigtails- and pretty blue eyes.

At Mackenzie’s comment, Lizzie’s eyes filled with tears.

“No I’m not!” She called out angrily before looking up at Ray with her big blue eyes, “Am I?”

“Of course you’re not!” Ray said sternly as he straightened his glasses and pulled Lizzie to his lap, “How could my favorite baby cousin EVER be a bother?” he finished dramatically, as if it were the most serious question in the world.

Lizzie giggled at that before looking back at her sister, “See?” she said, “I’m Rayrays FAVORITE baby cousin.” She said proudly.

“You’re his only baby cousin.” Came Mackenzie’s snarky reply, but by then she had already been forgotten about as her little sister showed off her new dress to Ray, “Whatever.” She finished with a huff before taking a seat and pulling out her phone.

The afternoon carried on much the same way. Sebastian wrestled with the Twins. Evalyn and Ray rained attention on Lizzie. Mackenzie texted away on her phone, only looking up now and again to give one of her cousins a dirty look for some imagined slight. Before they knew it, the back door opened, summoning them all to dinner.

 

~o~O~o~

 

Inside the house, someone had set up a folding table out and pulled it up next to the dining table to accommodate everyone at the gathering. Walking into the house, holding Lizzie’s hand at her insistence of course, Ray spotted his Aunt.

“Hi Aunt Lisa! Where’s Uncle John?” He asked, letting go of Lizzie’s hand for a moment to give his Aunt a hug.

“Hello Ray, it’s so good to see you.” She replied before rolling her eyes, “Oh you know him, always working. He said he'd come tonight, but apparently, there was a problem in the office that only he could fix, so it’s just me and the girls tonight.”

Lisa Robertson was Jameson’s younger sister. She had married her college sweetheart as soon as they graduated and he had wasted no time diving right into the world of investment banking. Ray didn’t understand much of what his Uncle John did, but he knew he did well. Lisa hadn't needed to work in years. It seemed like a waste to him, as she was a smart woman with a degree in accounting. Lisa was one of the shorter members of the family; she had the same golden brown hair as his father- which she kept shoulder length- and gray eyes, a rarity in their family.

A moment later his Uncle Frank came around the corner, engrossed in a deep conversation with Raymond’s father. He nodded a greeting to Raymond, but didn’t stop talking.

Frank Danahy the second was only a year older than Jameson, and the two were similar in many ways. They had the same build, and the same hair, with the same blue eyes. When they were younger they had often been mistaken for each other. Now the main difference was that Jameson was more fit, as he had been a volunteer firefighter for years, and Frank a had light beard and mustache, whereas Jameson was clean-shaven. His wife had died giving birth to the twins, he had raised the boys on his own, not having dated since his wife. Whether that was because he lacked time or interest Raymond wasn’t sure. He worked as the store manager of a Walmart in Vancouver.

Finishing what he had said, Uncle Frank clapped his hands together, “Alrighty then, have we figured out seating arrangements?”

Lizzie immediately piped up, “I wanna sit with Raymin!”

Everyone either smiled or chuckled at the little girl, except Mackenzie of course, who just rolled her eye’s and took a seat at the far end of the table.

Everyone quickly found their places, as Olivia and Catalina brought out the food. Soon everyone had served themselves- Ray helped Lizzie with hers- and dinner commenced.

At first everyone had their own conversations with whomever was sitting nearest, but soon Grandpa and Grandma decided that they wanted to hear what all of their grandchildren had been up to. Sebastian told them about the various sports teams he was on or planned to be on in the fall, Evalyn about her school work and the various careers she was considering. JR and Billie blabbed about all the wrestling moves they knew. Mackenzie barely looked up from her phone to say, “just school and stuff.”, and Lizzie, bubbly as usual, told the family all about kindergarten and each of her classmates. Grandma and Grandpa intently listened to every word from every grandchild.

Dinner was wrapping up when Olivia finally asked, “And what about you Ray?”

“Oh, you know. Just school and stuff.” He answered, hoping to get away with it as Mackenzie had.

He wasn’t so lucky however, as his Grandpa pushed, always taking more of an interest in his grandsons, “Oh? What kind of stuff?”

“Well, uh, I’ve started running with Sebastian every day.” He began, trying to come up with something that would satisfy his grandparents curiosity.

“What about in school?” his Grandma asked, “Thinking of trying out for any sports teams in the fall? Any clubs?”

“Oh. My. Gosh.” Interrupted Evalyn, grabbing everyone’s attention. Ray relaxed for a moment, believing himself saved and the pressure off.

“I totally forgot to tell you!” Evalyn gushed, looking at their parents, “On Friday at school, I was in the art room, helping one of my friends from the student council make posters, and I overheard some students talking! An art gallery in Mountsview has shown an interest in Ray’s work.”

Aaaaaand pressure back on.

This got everyone’s attention. Even Mackenzie looked up from her phone.

“Art?” asked Grandpa Frank sceptically, one eyebrow raised.

“I didn’t know you were an artist!” Said Grandma excitedly.

“O-oh, well uh, I dabble a bit I guess.” Ray said, trying to play it off. “It’s really not that big of a deal. The art gallery isn’t even really interested yet. They're holding a talented youth event.” He explained, “I’ve only made it through the first step, getting recommended by my teacher.

“Dabble? Not a big deal?” Evalyn questioned, “Stop selling yourself short Ray! You’re one of only 3 students in our whole school to have been recommended by Ms. Mira so far, and the other two are in grade 12, and planning to go to an art school after graduation.”

“Ray! Congratulations! Why didn’t we hear about this sooner?!” asked Mom excitedly.

Ray gave his sister a dirty look, “I dunno, I hadn’t decided whether I wanted to do it or not yet.”

“Why wouldn’t ya want to do it?” Grandpa asked, still skeptical about his grandson being an artist, “If you do something good ya deserve recognition for it.” He finished adamantly.

“Well, Grandpa.” Evalyn began, answering for Ray when he hesitated, much to his annoyance, “Ray doesn’t like showing his artwork to people- he hasn’t even shown a single piece to the family yet!”

“Well why not?” Grandpa asked.

“Well, uh, umm, ya see” Ray stammered, trying to think of a good reason without saying that it made him uncomfortable and potentially offend someone.

“Oh. I know why.” his grandfather said, nodding his head wisely.

“Y-you do?” Ray asked, confused.

“You’ve been painting nude woman haven’t ya?!” he said with a big laugh.

All the men around the table laughed, the woman just rolled their eyes, Ray blushed, but figured letting them think that was better than potentially offending anyone.

“What’s a nude?” Asked Lizzie, trying desperately to keep up with the conversation.

This brought another round of laughter.

Ray didn’t know what to say, one again, Evalyn was there to speak for him.

“No way Grandpa, my little brother isn’t some weird perv. He’s just a little shy is all.”

“Shy?” Grandpa said sarcastically, “Shyness is for women and little girls.”

“Frank, your embarrassing him.” His grandmother came to his rescue, swatting his Grandfathers arm to shut him up.

“I, for one, think it’s wonderful that we finally have an artist in the family,” she continued. “And whenever you’re ready to share your work with us, Raymond, we would love to see it. I’m sure it’ll be beautiful.”

Ray just nodded, glad that his turn to talk was over. He went back to his food, and soon the meal was wrapping up.

“Well,” Uncle Frank said, clapping his hands together as he was known to do, “How about we head down to the park and get a good ol’ game of football going!”

The men and boys all agreed excitedly- or most of them did at least. Ray just gave his customary heavy sigh, trying not to make his lack of enthusiasm too obvious.

“Excuse me?” Interjected Grandma, “What makes you think you don’t have to help clean up?”

“O-oh,” Stammered Uncle Frank, having been taken off guard, “Uh, sorry Mom. I mean, I guess we can do that first.”

Grandma rolled her eyes, “Oh! You boys go have your fun. We’ll take care of this in no time, right girls?”

Catalina and Lisa agreed immediately, Evalyn groaned, and Mackenzie just flat-out refused. Little Lizzie jumped right to her feet, “Yeah! No time!” she announced excitedly.

“Oh I’ll help too!” said Ray, starting to collect dishes

“Well that’s sweet of you honey, but you don’t have to. Go join in on the game.” his Grandma announced.

“Nah, Grandma. It’s only right that I help clean up after you slaved away making us an amazing dinner. Besides,” he said convincingly, “There’s seven of us. If I go, we won’t have even teams.”

“Oh, well your grandfather won’t mind sitting and watching,” she said, trying to get him to go.

Ray really didn’t want to go, but at this point was beginning to believe he wouldn’t be getting out of it. Then rescue came from the most unexpected of places.

“Grama, why do you want Raymin to leave?” asked Lizzie sadly, tears beginning to pool in her little eyes.

“O-oh, well of course I don’t want him to leave,” she said, taken off guard by the little girl. “I just thought he might have more fun with the boys than with us.” she explained, trying to make the little girl understand.

“You mean Raymin doesn’t have fun with me?” she asked in a tiny voice, a tear rolling down her cheek.

“Oh no, of course not sweet pea,” Grandma said, rushing to console the little girl, “Of course Ray can stay here with us. I’m sure he’ll have plenty of fun either way.”

“You really mean it?” Lizzie asked, hugging their Grandma.

“Of course, she does Lizzie,” Ray said, “In fact, there is no one here I would rather spend my time with than you.”

After that little scene, there was no way they could refuse Raymond’s help.

With the little girl smiling again, soon all the woman and girls of the house, plus Raymond, and minus Mackenzie who sat on the couch texting, were puttering around the kitchen and dining room. Eventually Grandma dismissed Evalyn, Ray, and Lizzie, telling them to go relax.

Soon Lizzie began to complain about being bored, but as this was their grandparents house, there wasn’t much in the way of entertainment for a little girl, so Ray came up with an idea after spotting his Grandma’s latest romance novel.

“Lizzie? Do you see that book over there? The one on the coffee table? If you go grab it for me, I’ll read to you!”

“Really?!” Lizzie asked in utter amazement, “Mackenzie NEVER reads to me!”

“Really.” Ray said, “You can even FLIP the pages.”

The little girl ran off to get the book after excitedly telling her mommy that Ray was going to read to her.

Soon Ray was sitting outside on the patio with his little cousin sitting on his lap and flipping the pages for him when he prompted her. He didn’t think Lizzie even understood what was happening in the book, but she was having fun, and that was all that really mattered at the moment.

 

~o~O~o~

 

Frank was disappointed that his grandson Raymond hadn’t come to join. That boy really needed to man up a bit. Regardless they had a good fun game. They had decided to have all three generations of Frank take on Sebastian, Billy, and Jameson.

Initially Billy had been upset with the teams, saying how he wanted to play on his Dad and Grandpa’s team, and it was unfair that JR had become the new Frank just because he was a minute older.

Sebastian quickly cheered him up, and he was even happier after the game. The older generations of Franks just couldn’t keep up with Sebastian, a star football player, and Jameson, a volunteer fire fighter. The game was almost completely one-sided.

Now they were arriving back at the house. On the way home, Frank had grilled Jameson a bit, asking if he was okay with the way Raymond acted all the time. Art? He needed to spend more time on the football field with his brother!

“I admit that Raymond has some issues, but really, as long as he’s happy, then I’m happy.”

That was all Jameson would say on the subject.

Walking in the door, Frank called out, “Olivia?”

Receiving no answer, he tried another name, “Lisa? Catalina?”

Still nothing. He looked at his sons and grandsons in confusion. “Where is everyone?”

They all just shrugged. After walking through the house and looking out the dining room window he spotted the rest of his family, all gathered together on the patio.

Opening the door, Frank spoke, “Olivia, what are-

“Shhhh” his wife interrupted him, before pointing to one of the patio chairs.

Raymond sat in the chair reading aloud quietly, Lizzie fast asleep in his lap.

He whispered to Jameson, “See, that’s exactly what I mean. You would’ve never read a sappy romance novel to Lisa when you were kids! Are you really okay with this son?”

“it’s a different generation now Dad,” Jameson said quietly, “And Ray’s had a rough time of it. If he’s happier reading and doing art than he is playing football, then hell yeah. I’m okay with it.”

Frank just shook his head.

 

~o~O~o~

 

A short time later everyone said their goodbyes and went their separate ways. While it wasn’t that late, some of them had long drives to make, and the kids all had school in the morning.

The last few months of school went by uneventfully. Ray continued to run with his brother and to eat healthier. He lost weight, and soon even the other kids at school were noticing the changes. Ray grew more confident in himself, and started regularly wearing his hair in a ponytail. He didn’t feel like he needed to hide behind it anymore. Derek Pilsing, the bully, tried to mess with him a few more times over the last few months, but he made the mistake of doing so during lunch when Evalyn was nearby. After being publicly told off and humiliated by one of the most popular girls in the school, and then receiving a menacing glare from Sebastian, he finally backed off for good.

Even Mr. McMan started giving Ray a break when he saw the changes. He actually tried to take credit for motivating Ray to change, and while it bothered Ray, he was just happy the man had stopped picking on him.

In art class Ray continued his secrecy about his work. The art gallery event had given him the inspiration for a series of 5 pieces, each done in varying mediums. He still had no plans to enter the event- he just liked his idea and had decided to go through with bringing it into the world.

Between keeping up with his studies and everything else, Ray had little free time, but he always made time to play online with Bunny, usually for about an hour a day. He also finally beat the boss from his other game. What little free time that remained he spent either reading or working on his art.

Frankly, he had amazed his family with his drastic turn-around. In the matter of a few months Ray seemed to have done a complete 180. On his last report card of the year, he did better than he had ever done before. He still wasn’t up to where his family wanted, but it was clear he would get there sooner or later. Probably sooner.

Summer finally arrived, to the great relief of the kids. They were all eager for some downtime. As Sebastian had promised, in addition to their daily runs, the brothers began going down to the lake every day, or at least almost every day. Evalyn even joined them on occasion. Between swimming and running Ray’s body was rapidly undergoing a metamorphosis. He still wasn’t nearly at his brother or father’s level, but the assholes at school certainly wouldn’t be able to call him chubby anymore.

One thing that Ray found very off was his figure and facial features. As he lost weight, he had expected the wide shoulders and strong face that seemed to run in his family’s men to show itself in him, but it hadn’t. In fact, as his face had lost its baby fat his features ended up looking a bit delicate. When he asked his sister, she informed him, straight up, that he did, in fact, look a bit androgynous- but that it wasn’t a bad thing, she stated- and that he would be a real charmer with women. This didn’t help his discomfort. He had been so sure that by getting his body in better shape he would be able to get over his feeling of being trapped, and while he was a lot happier, he still couldn’t shake that feeling of wrongness. Maybe this was just how everybody felt? He tried not to dwell on the feeling too much, but sometimes he couldn’t help it. The rest of his family always seemed so comfortable in their bodies.

As the summer progressed, Evalyn even started teaching him to drive, with their parents’ permission of course. He wouldn’t be able to get his licence for another year yet, but if he started now he could be ready. His parents did, however, tell him that if he did get his licence he would have to buy his own vehicle and pay his own insurance during the summer months. Evalyn and Sebastian had both done the same through summer jobs. Catalina and Jameson didn’t mind paying their insurance through the school year, as they would prefer the kids focus on their studies. In the summer, however, they were on their own.

That ultimatum was what got Ray truly thinking about the art gallery. He might be able to make a few hundred dollars from his work- if he was lucky, and he really wouldn’t mind parting with some of his pieces. While simply looking at them was nice and all, for Ray it was really the process he enjoyed. The act of creation, and seeing what he could produce. Seeing how he could change paint, pencil, and a blank page or piece of canvas into something so much more. Of course, to enter the art gallery he would have to get over his shyness. That was a whole new challenge in and of itself, but he could cross that bridge when he came to it. The first step was just earning his place in the gallery.

Thankfully, he had brought the pieces he had worked on home with him over the summer, and he threw a few hours into them each day. Before long two more were added to the five-piece series that would be his portfolio for the event. The first piece was the drawing of the old man and the grim reaper that he had originally shown Ms. Mira and that had started this whole thing. It only seemed fitting to include it, and after much deliberation, he had come up with a title as Ms. Mira had asked. He called it ‘Patiently Waiting’. He had yet to come up with titles for the other two but he was sure it would come to him eventually.

As he still needed two more, he had to ask someone in the family to give him a ride to an art supply store. This, of course, tipped his family off about what he had been up to with the long hours in his room. Despite clearly being eager to see what he had been working on, his family respected his privacy and didn’t pressure him. Not for the first time he was very thankful that he had such an understanding family.

He and Bunny continued to talk and play on an almost daily basis. Bunny still didn’t know where his family would be moving. Apparently, his father’s company had taken their time setting things up and were even letting his father choose a preferred location from a small list.

Before they knew it, the summer was over and another year of school was about to begin.

 

~o~O~o~

 

Ray let out a deep, apprehensive sigh. He was nervous. How could he not be? It was his first day of grade 9- his first day of High School. Sure, he was still going to the same school, and most of the people would be the same, but it felt different none the less.

“Relax squirt! It’s gonna be great! You’re a new you!” Sebastian reassured him.

“Yeah!” Evalyn chipped in, “People are gonna love your new look!”

He looked down at himself. Besides the changes to his body, his whole sense of style had shifted as well. Before he had always valued comfort over aesthetics, but over the summer Evalyn had shown him that he could look good and still be comfortable. Instead of his customary sweat pants and t-shirts he now wore a pair of tight-fitting jeans and a button up long-sleeved shirt. He wore a light jacket, as fall could be a bit nippy living so close to the mountains, and had a long scarf wrapped around his neck. He liked the scarf, as it reminded him of a video game character. Around his neck was also a new set of headphones. They, along with an IPod, had been a gift from his family for his 14th birthday that summer. They had known he wanted a new headset for gaming but the IPod had been a surprise. They had ensured the headset would be compatible with both his games and the IPod. It had only taken a day for him to get the IPod loaded up with all varieties of music he enjoyed. His long hair had been masterfully weaved into a braid at his sister’s insistence and came to the middle of his back. His sister had even convinced him to give contact lenses a try. He was starting to think she could convince him to jump off a cliff if she wanted to.

He chuckled at his sister’s comment, “C’mon Eva, you know I don’t care much about popularity. I’d rather just lay low and focus on what’s important.”

“Lay low?” Sebastian asked, “looking like that? Unlikely little bro.”

“It’s just like I said,” Evalyn said confidently, “I now have a hunky older brother and a dreamy younger brother.” She turned to walk out the door.

“Hey. Wait a second.” Ray called after her in confusion, “You didn’t insist on this change in look just to prove yourself right did you? Hey I’m talking to you!”

Sebastian just laughed and followed after them. This will be an interesting year, he thought.
 



 
Hi all.

Flummox here.

First things first, I need to apologize for something. At the end of chapter 2 I said I had a lot of chapters piled up, and would be releasing them twice a week.

Now the very next chapter is arriving late, and I may be altering that schedule. But I promise, it's for a good reason! I have someone who's proofreading each chapter for me now. They wish to remain anonymous, but I believe with this persons help my story will be of a much higher quality.

That's why this chapter was late. Revisions.

So I'm sorry I lied to you all and made you wait, and I hope the increased length and quality of this chapter will convince you to forgive me.

The increase of pace I referred to last time was the two short time lapses that occurred this chapter. Starting in the next chapter is a new school year for Raymond and his family, and in my opinion, where the story really begins.

I also feel the need to bring up another point. Anyone familiar with Canadian drivers licences might be thinking, "Hey! Wait a second Flummox! If Ray just turned 14, he can't get his licence for another two years! Even then it would only be a learners permit! Kids can't get their full licence until the age of 17 in that area of Canada!"

To anyone who might be thinking that, all I can really say is that I've taken a few, uhhhh, artistic liberties. Let's go with that. Hope you don't mind.

Finally, reading your comments and messages lifts my heart and makes my day, so if you've liked the story so far, it would mean the world to me if you left me a comment or messaged me about it!

Thanks, and I hope with all my heart that every single person reading this has a wonderful day.

Flummox



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