Chapter 9:



Rayner, dressed in a black suit, slumped back in a chair by a table. He took a deep breath and rested his eyes momentarily. He wasn't at school or home at the moment. He was at a restaurant called Dino’s Cuisine. He was resting in the break room at his job.

He was thinking about earlier that day at school. He had spent the latter half of his lunch talking with Rebecca. He felt bad for Ken and Ari who invited him to hangout with them, so he went up to them during study hall. 

"I'm sorry if I made you guys wait for nothing," Rayner apologized. 

"Don't worry about it, dude," said Ken.

"Yeah, we're not mad, " Ari added.

"Okay, thank goodness. I guess I was worried over nothing." He then gave out a nervous chuckle. 

Ken then gave him a big pat on the back and said, "C'mon, no need to say sorry for something like that."

Ari giggled and said, "Like we said, we weren't going to force you to hangout with us."

"Right..." Rayner said, awkwardly. "I did want to come and find you guys. But... something came up." He gave a passing gander at Rebecca, who nodded back at him politely as she returned his glance.

"Well," Ken started saying, "if you really feel bad about it, just come hangout with us next time."

"Oh, okay. Is it okay if I invite Blake too?" He wanted to include Rebecca’s name but figured he should ask how she feels about it first.

"Of course. The more the merrier."

As Rayner was lost in his reccolection, he felt a shift at the table. As he looked over at the cause, he saw one of the restaurant's servers sit down across from him. He was a man in his early twenties with short light-brown hair with curls in the back. Rayner knew this man as Vinnie, who got hired the same exact day he was.

"Heya," greeted Vinnie. "Were you sleeping there, Rayner? Sorry if I woke you up, my man."

"No," replied Rayner. "I was just taking a quick breather. Are you on lunch now?"

"Yep. You on your last break?"

"Yes, sir."

"So polite," Vinnie commented with a chuckle. "But you said you're in your last year of high school, right Rayner?"

"Um... Yeah."

"How are the high schools here in Sproutling? I went to high school in the city, so I was kinda curious."

"They're fine, I guess. I lived my whole life here in town so I don't know what to compare mine to."

"That's fair. You must be popular at school, right? You're an athletic and attractive guy. All the girls must be swooning over you."

"Oh, no, not me," Rayner replied, awkwardly. "I don't really hang around others at school that much."

"Ah, I get it. I was sort of the same. I spent all my time with my girlfriend my last year of high school. I realized that my friends at the time were real jerks so I dropped them."

"Really? I didn't know that about you."

"We never talked about high school before. I figured I should let you know a little bit of my experience. What are your friends like, Rayner?"

"Oh um..." Rayner hesitated now. He tried his best to avoid talking about his high school experience. He had no reason to lie to Vinnie though, so he came out with it. "Well... to be honest, I only have like two friends at school. Maybe four at most."

"Seriously?" Vinnie asked, surprised. "Well, do you hangout with them a lot?"

"During breaks, mostly. Some small talk every now and then during class."

"How about after school? Or on weekends?"

"Um... No, not really."

"C'mon, you gotta live it up, man! You should hit them up and ask if they wanna do something with you tomorrow."

"I don't know about that. I wouldn't want to bother them. Besides, I only have one of their phone numbers. I haven't asked my other friends for theirs."

"Give him a call then."

"Oh, she's a girl. Her name is Blake."

"Is that right? She your girlfriend?"

"No!" Rayner cried, embarrassed. "She’s just a friend." His face was deeply blushing as he thought about what it'd be like if Blake was actually his girlfriend. 

"You should see if she's free tomorrow," Vinnie suggested again.

"No, she probably has better things to do."

Vinnie sighed and went, "You're missing out, man. The least you could do is ask her. Don't just assume that she doesn't want to hangout. What's the worst that could happen? She'd say no and then you wouldn't see her until school. That's not bad."

"I see your point." Rayner couldn't deny that the thought of seeing Blake outside of school made him happy. "I'll text her tomorrow, it's late right now."

"What, 8:00 too late for high schoolers to chat?" Vinnie teased.

Rayner chuckled and said, "Alright, my break's over. I'll talk to you later, Vinnie." He stood up from his seat and tucked it under the table.

"Good luck out there," said Vinnie. "Don't let the crazies take a bite outta ya."

"Don't worry," Rayner said, confidently. "I can handle myself. Enjoy your lunch."

"Yep. See ya, man."

The next morning, Rayner had awoken and got himself up out of bed. He walked into the kitchen and checked to see what food and ingredients they had at home. 

Alright, time for a grocery run, Rayner thought to himself. He then noticed a plate over the counter top with a fried egg and some toast. Mom must have left this for me. Might as well eat before I go. 

After Rayner finished eating, he left to get groceries after grabbing his white bracelet that he always wears that was by the door. 

During his walk to the store, he remembered what he talked about with Vinnie last night. He pulled out his phone and hesitated on texting Blake. He wavered for a good minute before deciding to actually text her.

Like Vinnie said, what's the worst that can happen? Let's just text and ask if she's free today.

After he sent the text message, he gave out a sigh of relief and looked up at the sky. Okay, I sent it. Why do I feel so anxious now? I need to calm my nerves somehow... I'll just hurry to the store and try to forget about everything else right now.

Although he said that to try and calm himself down, he couldn't stop himself from checking his phone to see if Blake responded to his text. There was no response while Rayner was at the store and still no response as he walked back home with his groceries. 

The first thing Rayner did as he got back home was take his bracelet off and then put the groceries away. He then laid down over his bed in his room and stared up at the ceiling. Hm, what should I do now? Blake never responded and I feel so nervous waiting around like this. He then glanced over to the side and saw a pair of dumbells in the corner of the room. Rayner then realized that he hadn't worked out in a while and remembered that there was some exercise equipment in the garage.

Rayner then left his room and walked up to the door to the garage. He had a bittersweet look on his face as he stood there, debating on whether or not he wanted to go in. He then took a deep breath and opened up the door. 

As he walked over to the exercise gear on the left side of the garage, he saw that they seemed to be in working order. They were just covered in dust due to years of not being used. Rayner then thoroughly wiped everything down and began to work out. He had changed into a black tank top and sweats beforehand.

After exercising for a little over an hour, he decided to stop. I'm not as fit as I used to be, Rayner thought to himself. I used to be able to do more reps than this before getting fatigued. Guess its cause my body's not used to doing this after all this time.

The garage door then suddenly opened up as Rayner's mother walked inside. Rayner’s face looked up at surprise because he didn't realize that his mother was already home. Maddie looked back at him with a surprised expression as well. 

There was an awkward pause for a moment before they both tried to speak up at the same time.

"Oh um..." they both said, nervously.

"Oh, sorry," apologized Maddie. "You go first..."

"No, no," Rayner stated. "You go ahead, Mom."

Maddie gave out a nervous laugh and said, "Heh, I feel like it's been a while since we talked... Raynie..." She called Rayner by a nickname she had called him all his life. She paused because she wasn't sure if her son was still okay with her calling him that.

"What do you mean, Mom?" Rayner asked. "We say hi and stuff every now and then. And talk about groceries when needed."

"That's not what I meant, Dear."

Rayner bit his lip out of nervousness. He knew what his mother truly meant but was scared to talk about it. "There's a reason for that..." he eventually uttered.

"I know..." Maddie replied. "Sorry." She then went to close the door again but Rayner called out to her before she could close it all the way.

"Wait, Mom!" He wasn't sure why he suddenly called out to her like that. Perhaps he wanted to try and mend his relationship with his mother and spoke without thinking.

Maddie got startled and said, "Um, yes?"

"Sorry, I didn't mean to scare you... I'm done working out, can you hold the door for me?"

"Yes, Dear." Maddie was happy but tried not to show it on her face in case it would offset Rayner.

They then both walked into the kitchen together and talked about the groceries that Rayner had just went out to buy. All the while, Rayner would check his phone every five or so minutes.

"Um... Raynie?" Maddie said, curiously.

Rayner looked back at his mother after checking his phone once more. "Yeah, Mom. What is it?"

"You don't have to answer if you don't want to but... I noticed that you've been looking at your phone a lot today. Is there a reason for that?"

In that moment, Rayner realized that he never brought up Blake to his mother. It really has been a while since my mother and I talked about our personal lives... Rayner then answered honestly with, "I texted a friend of mine and asked if she was free today. I've been waiting since this morning but she hasn't responded yet."

"A friend?!" Maddie reacted. Last Maddie knew, Rayner hasn't had a friend since middle school. "And she's a girl? I would love to meet her, Raynie."  This was the most excited Rayner had heard his mother sound in years.

 "But I told you that she didn't reply... She's probably busy or doesn't want to hangout."

At that moment, Maddie looked at her son with a stern look and said, "Raynie, you don't know that. She might have just been busy when you sent her a message. Give her a call right now and see if she's free. And tell her that I'd like to meet with her."

"Um... Okay, Mom." Rayner was astounded. For one, Maddie has never been stern with him. Second, her face after saying that she wanted to meet Blake showed off a little too much excitement. Rayner had a feeling that his mother had the wrong impression about his relationship with Blake.

Rayner then called Blake's number while his mother looked him in the eyes with anticipation. 

It rang a few times and Rayner thought that Blake wouldn't answer. Right as he was about to lose hope, Blake answered her phone.

"Hiya, Rayner," she said, quickly. 

"Oh, hey Blake..." Rayner was confused by the speed of her greeting.

"I'm glad I got to my phone in time. I almost didn't notice you were calling."

"Ah, I see. Did you get my text from earlier?"

"Omigosh, I didn't know you texted me earlier today! I left my phone on the charger in my room this morning, and I left it there while helping my family with some errands. I'm sorry."

"No, its fine. I was just asking if you were free today. But if your helping your family with something then I won't bother you."

"No, wait. I'm done helping them, I'm totally free now."

"Really? Well then..." Rayner hesitated as his insecurities began to haunt him again. However, as he looked back at his mother's expression, he didn't want to let her down and give up now. In the heat of the moment he uttered, "Did you want to hangout with me?"

"Of course," Blake responded, happily. "What did you want to do?"

"Oh, I didn't think of that yet..."

Blake's tone became more playful as she said, "Now you're sounding more like the Rayner I know and love."

Rayner blushed after hearing Blake say the word 'love.' "Hey, please don't mess with me right now. My mom is looking at me right now."

"You're mom? Tell her I said hello."

"Actually, my mom was hoping to meet with you."

"Seriously? In that case, should I swing by your place?"

"Only if your comfortable with coming over here."

"Why wouldn't I be? I trust you, Rayner."

Rayner blushed happily but tried to hide his smile from his mother. Maddie could easily tell what kind of expression her son was making at the time though.

"Then I guess I'll see you in a bit, Blake."

"Yeah. When can I come over?"

"Oh, um..." Rayner looked his mother in the eyes as he continued talking to Blake. "Maybe in an hour?" He tried answering Blake and asking his mother if that time was alright at the same time. Maddie nodded, with a smile on her face. "Yeah, you're good to come over in an hour."

"Alright, Rayner. See you then. I'm excited to meet your mom too."

"Right... See you soon."

The phone call ended there and Rayner took a deep breath to alleviate his anxiety. 

Maddie smiled and said, "I'm going to make sure the house is tidy for when she gets here."

"I'll help with that," Rayner offered.

"Raynie, go ahead and take a shower real quick to wash off your workout sweat. I can take care of everything on my own."

Rayner looked down at his sweat stained shirt and went, "Yeah, that's a good idea. Are you sure you can clean the house by yourself, Mom?"

"Leave it to me, Sweetie. I can handle it." She spoke confidently. 

Rayner felt bad about not helping when he was the one inviting someone over. But he let go of the issue as he realized how happy his mother looked. This was the happiest he's seen his mother since the incident. He then showered as his mother got the house neat and tidy for Blake's arrival.