Chapter 16:

Pent-up Frustration


After class, Rayner and his friends all walked out of the classroom together. As they did, Ken grabbed everyone's attention. He asked Rayner and Blake to walk with him and Ari for a bit. When they all began to follow him, Ken walked backwards in front of everyone.

 "So Rayn, Blake, you guys got anything going on today?" Ken asked. "If not, the two of you should go on a stroll with me and Ari."

"I would really like that," declared Rayner. He turned to Blake and asked, "How about you Blake? Do you need to be home anytime soon?"

"Not really," Blake replied. "If I want to hangout with some friends before going home, my folks wouldn't mind. Let's do it, Rayner." She then glanced back at Rayner with a warm smile.

Rayner blushed in response and said nothing after seeing Blake's comforting expression.

"Sweet," cheered Ken. "Let's hit the road then." As Ken was still walking backwards, he didn't realize that he was about to back into someone.

"Ken, look out," Ari warned him.

However, it was too late and Ken bumped into another student who had their back turned to the group. Ken instantly turned around and went, "Oh crap. Sorry about..." Ken paused and tilted his head a few inches up as he saw who he backed in to.

Will stood before Ken, turning around with an irritable look in his eyes as Ken bumped into him. "Kenny?" Will questioned, as he realized who had bumped into him. His eyes relaxed slightly as he affixed his gaze towards Ken.

Ken turned his head away and said, "I don't go by that anymore." All of Ken's energy when talking to his friends seemed to suddenly disappear. 

Will looked like he wanted to say something to Ken, but before he even had the chance, someone else spoke up.

"So the nerd wanted to get revenge, huh?" Winston called out. He was standing tall a few feet away from Will. Paula and Miranda were part of Will's group too, but they were watching the scene play itself out for now.

"Revenge?" Will asked. "The hell do you mean by that?"

Seemingly ignoring Will, Winston continued to berate Ken by going, "Nice shirt. Looks better than the one you had on before your little accident."

Ken grit his teeth for a moment before calming himself down. "Thanks," he said in response. "It still has that new shirt smell. Wanna get a whiff of it?"

"Like hell I do!" Winston retorted. "You better not mess with my bro, you damn nerd!" He pointed a thumb at Will, who was still out of the loop.

"I didn't mean to bump into him," Ken declared. "I wasn't watching where I was going."

"Yeah right! I bet you were thinking of getting back at me and Paula by messing with Will first."

"I don't even..." Ken couldn't believe the tale that Winston had spun instead of accepting the accident for what it was. "I'm going back to my friends now. I hope y'all have a good one." His tone came out more irritable than he meant for it to be.

Before Ken could turn back around to go towards his friends, Winston put a hand on his shoulder. "You ain't going nowhere, punk!"

"I'd like it if you kept your hands off of me," Ken said, calmly. Although the threatening look he passed at Winston conveyed otherwise. He could mask his tone now, but there was no helping the death stare in Ken's eyes as he dauntingly gazed at Winston.

"You little!" Winston, now angered, attempted to throw a punch at Ken.

Ken easily evaded it by leaning backwards. As Winston stumbled upon whiffing his attack, Ken quickly turned his body and walked back over to where his friends were standing.

As Ken got closer to them, Rayner walked around Ken to put himself in between the two groups. He took a moment to scrutinize the other group of students.

"What the hell are you doing?!" Will asked, frustratingly. "You trying to pick a fight and get suspended before our next game?"

"Hell no!" Winston protested. "But I ain't letting some damn nerd make a fool out of any of us!"

"Bro, it's cool. Kenny just slipped up a little. He's not going to do anything to any of us. But I want to hear what you and Paula did to him." The way he spoke was calm and commanding. He didn't sound arrogant in the slightest. It was clear he was annoyed, but he enunciated properly and so well-behaved that it didn't come out as overly confrontational.

Rayner stopped paying attention to them after hearing Winston and Paula whine while explaining the prank they pulled on Ken. Before returning his gaze back to his own friends, he noted how Miranda seemed to roll her eyes in disappointment after hearing Winston and Paula's explanation.

As Rayner shifted his focus back to his friends again, he heard Ari speak to Ken in a slow, gentle tone.

"You were getting really upset," she said.

"I know..." Ken said, in a solemn voice. "I guess I'm just fed up at this point."

Rayner walked back over to Ken and put a hand over his shoulder. "You didn't hurt yourself, did you?" Rayner asked, concerned for Ken's well-being. "Colliding with the ace of the basketball team must feel like hitting a brick wall."

"I'm fine," Ken laughed. "If Will's a brick wall, then I'm made out of titanium. Don't underestimate me just because I'm shorter than you."

"Of course," Rayner nodded.

"I don't know how to feel about them..." Blake blurted out loud.

Rayner tilted his head curiously and said, "I understand that you want to make a lot of friends, Blake. But you don't have to befriend everyone you meet." He scratched the back of his head as Blake turned to him. "Not like I have the right to lecture you about this kind of thing though..."

"No, you're right," Blake replied. "I've got a good amount of friends already. I should focus on making the most out of my time with you three." She smiled at her friends that were right by her side.

The four of them the  made their way off campus and continued to walk around town. As they did, Ken began to think of a nickname for Blake as well. 

"There gotta be a good one for you, Blake," Ken declared.

"Is it really necessary when my name is as short as it is?" Blake commented.

"It is extremely necessary. It means that we're close friends."

"Well then, I appreciate you going through the trouble for me. Thank you, Ken."

"Uh-huh. I think I've got one. Starting now, I will call you Blay."

"Blay?" Ari asked. "Hm... It's such a subtle change from her actual name." After saying it a few more times in her head, Ari smiled. "Actually, I kinda like it."

"It's wonderful," Blake said, earnestly. "Would you all like to call me that?"

Ken and Ari nodded and let out affirming chuckles. 

Rayner, on the other hand, preferred calling Blake by her regular name. "I think I just want to keep calling you Blake," he said, slowly and hesitantly. He was afraid that Blake would be upset with him after saying that.

To his relief, Blake assured him by saying, "That's fine, Raynie. If it's more comfortable to use my name, then just keep using it." She smiled, earnestly. 

"Thanks Blake. It's just that I really like you and your name so I-"

Before Rayner could understand what he said, Ari interrupted him with a loud, excitable gasp. "Oh my," Ari said, gleefully. "Is that a love confession, Rayn?"

Rayner’s eyes widened as his face turned bright red. "Wait, I didn't mean it like that!"

Blake then acted coy and covered her face with her hands. She peeked at Rayner through her fingers while saying, "Oh, whatever am I to do?" She stretched out her words to emphasize her teasing. "My best friend just confessed to me. Should I confess back to him, Ari? What do you think?"

"Oh, I don't know," Ari said, playfully. "Maybe you should play hard to get and see if he confesses again later."

"C'mon guys," Ken said, defiantly. "Stop it. You're really gonna make Rayn cry at this point."

"I wouldn't cry over this," Rayner claimed. He tried to sound reassuring but he was so nervous that his words came out timidly.

Ken then patted his back and went, "Hey, it's okay, big guy. I wouldn't judge you if you did." Ken then let out a sigh while looking up at Rayner. Changing the topic, he went, "You know Rayn, it's hardly fair that you're so tall and well-built compare to the rest of us.

After saying that, the girls huddled up by Rayner’s side to compare his height with everyone.

"What's everyone doing?" Rayner asked, puzzled.

Blake moved close enough to Rayner that their bodies almost touched and looked up at him. 

"Um... You're making me a little uncomfortable now," Rayner admitted. 

Blake pouted and said, "Hmph, I'm only up to your chin." She then turned around and and crossed her arms in frustration. 

"You're mad about that?" Rayner was thrown off by Blake's sudden grief towards his height. "It's not my fault I'm this tall. It's genetics."

"Well not everyone is as blessed as you,  Raynie." She turned her head back to face Rayner. The frown on her face still remained.

Rayner looked around at the others and noted that he was about a half foot taller than Ken and Ari and nearly a whole foot taller than Blake. He then thought of Will, who was slightly taller than him. 

"I think Will is taller than me, though," Rayner commented. "It probably gives him an advantage when he plays sports."

Ari suddenly threw an appalled look at Rayner. "We don't talk about that guy and his group, Rayn."

"Huh? I understand that you and Ken seem to butt heads with them, but why is it taboo to speak about them?"

"It's not," Ken stated. "Ari's just being melodramatic."

Ari then turned to Ken with an apprehensive look and said, "Okay, what is with you? I can tell when you're upset, Ken. And I know how down in the dumps you get whenever you think about Will."

"I'm not a child. I'm not going to flip out over hearing his name."

"Then I guess you can high five him for all I care." Ari stomped on her heel and turned away from Ken, taking the lead over the group as she marched onwards.

Ken sighed and said, "Whatever. This was a stupid argument anyway." Ken stood in his tracks for a few moments to let Rayner and Blake walk in front of him.

Noticing the awkward tension between Ari and Ken, Blake leaned over to Rayner and whispered to him.

"The mood went sour all of a sudden, huh?" Blake asked, wondering what Rayner thought about the sudden fight between the others.

"I've never seen them argue like this before," stated Rayner. "I mean, I've seen them argue but not to this extent."

"They've both been dead silent for a minute. What do you think we should do, Raynie?"

"I don't know. I don't have experience with this sort of thing."

"Then I guess you're learning how to get friends to make up today. I'll help too." Blake formed a wide smile on her face and giggled as she faced Rayner. 

Rayner nervously smiled back and said, "Right."

At this moment, Ari paused and stood in place. She turned back to Rayner and Blake saying, "Were you two even trying to whisper to each other? "

"Huh?" Blake blurted, surprisingly. 

"Yeah, I heard your whole chat just now," commented Ken.

"Oh, um..." Rayner muttered, unsure of how to react.

Ken let out a long sigh and said in a half earnest tone, "Okay look, Ari. You're right about a few things but you don't know everything about my issues."

Ari finally looked back at Ken after all this time and aggressively said, "That’s because you haven't explained yourself to me since the school year started. So much for being best friends..."

Ken then snapped and yelled, "We are best friends, dammit! You were basically my only friend until Rayner and Blake started hanging out with us! Don't you think I've been grateful for you and everything you've done for me!?"

Rayner and Blake stood back and silently watched, hoping that everything would mellow out somehow.

"I didn't know you appreciated anything I did," stated Ari. "Not when you don't show any signs of gratefulness."

"What the hell do you want from me?! Am I supposed to thank you every time you fight my own battles for me? Or maybe I should thank you for not killing yourself just like-" He then shut himself up and looked over at Rayner and Blake, who looked back at him in utter shock. Ken turned towards them and said in a low tone, "I forgot that it's not just me and Ari anymore..."

Rayner looked back at Ken with a stern look and said, "Hey, that's not right! You shouldn't bring up that kind of stuff just because you're upset."

At this moment, Rayner and Ken stared at each other for a while with serious expressions. They stayed like this for a while, waiting to see who would break contact first.

They both broke eye contact at the same time as Ari called out to them. "Boys, stop," she said. "Ken only said that because..." She paused. "Well, I shouldn't be the one to tell you."

"My pops offed himself," Ken stated, abruptly. "And I have a lot of resentment for him because of that."

Rayner’s eyes sank low after hearing Ken's statement. "I didn't know..." Rayner said, apologetically. "I'm sor-"

Interrupting him, Ken said, "Because I never told you. And I don't want you to feel sorry for me."

Mustering up his confidence, Rayner solemnly declared, "I feel sorry for you because I know what it's like to lose a father."

Ken looked back at him and felt guilty. While he didn't know the exact details, Ken knew that Rayner’s father had left home years ago. "Right," Ken muttered. "I feel pretty shitty for putting that fact about you aside until now."

"Do you live with your mother?" Blake asked. "Or another family member perhaps?"

"My mom died before my father due to an illness. After working so many jobs for a while, he got too stressed and finally decided to take the easy way out. It's just been me and my big sister since then. We've lived this way for more than six years at this point. She and I get into arguments often, but I get on her nerves every now and then to let her know that her annoying kid brother is always with her. We only have each other to rely on, and I wake up every day hoping that she hasn't decided to follow after our father's footsteps."

Blake covered her mouth with her hands and said, "That's awful, Ken. With the way you joke around all the time, I never would've guessed that you've been living this kind of life."

Ken let out a weak chuckle. "I like to believe I found a way to cope with everything." He looked over at Ari and smiled faintly. 

Ari looked back at him with a sorrowful look. In a low voice, she said, "It hurt a lot back when those events happened. Hearing them described out loud like this... hurts just as badly." She then started to tear up, but quickly wiped them away and composed herself.

"You're always doting on Ken," stated Blake. "The way you two acted whenever you would ask him about his bullying situation always made me think of an overprotective mother and her rebellious son."

Ari chuckled, weakly. "Maybe that's because I've always had a lot of respect for his actual mother."

"Oh, she must've been a wonderful person."

"Ken's mother was amazing," declared Ari. "She was a very sickly woman, but was always so joyful and supportive. She always let you know how much she loved and cared for you, pushing all of her pain aside to take care of others first. She will forever remain my greatest role model. She had last words for all of us before she passed away. For Ken, his dad and sister, and for me.

"And I never want to forget them," stated Ken. He then continued to walk forward passed Ari. "Let's go to the park nearby," he said to his friends. "I feel like we're going to have a long talk. And I don't feel like having a long conversation over on the sidewalk. I want to let Rayn and Blay know about my past. And after that, I want to finally vent out my frustrations to anybody that's willing to listen."

"Always," Ari said, while nodding. 

"Yeah," added Rayner. "I'd love to get to know you better, Ken."

"Likewise," Blake stated.

"For now let's bring it in," Ken said, opening his arms outwards. He bunched everyone up by Rayner’s side and urged everyone to have a group hug centered around Rayner.

Rayner didn't protest, but was silent as he fell into an awkward state of mind. He didn't know whether to hug everyone back or not until Blake reached for his arm and rested it over her back.

Another student from Wellspring High had glanced over at the group as they passed right by. The student had to walk slightly into the street just to get around them. Rayner felt even more awkward as he and the student briefly made eye contact. The student then rapidly averted his gaze and continued walking along at a faster pace than before.

"Um guys..." Rayner said, awkwardly. "Can we wrap this up and continue on our way?"