Jen R requested a gentle slice of life for Ray K.

Barbara and Damien Kowalski found a trailer park in a wooded area just outside Chicago. It suited them perfectly - just far enough out of town to be away from the hassle and noise, but the twenty minute drive was not enough to deter Stanley, whom they were not quite able yet to call Ray, from visiting often.

Most of the time Ray brought Fraser and Diefenbaker with him. First they all enjoyed Barabara's sturdy mid-western cooking, then the Canadians went out into the woods to prowl happily around on their own while Ray stayed back and talked with his father. And how they talked, making up for years of estrangement.

More often than not, everyone stayed the night, Fraser and Diefenbaker taking the opportunity to sleep out under the stars and Ray crashing on the couch.On this one summer evening, however, it was raining. There was not enough room in the cramped trailer, even on the floor, for the Mountie and wolf so they all just planned to go home later.

Barbara piled homemade french fries onto Fraser's plate, apparently in the belief that this was a food he particularly liked. She said, "You'll be here next Sunday, I hope, Fraser. We're having a ping pong tournament in the recreation hall and Damien needs a partner. Sta. . . Ray . . . doesn't like to play."

"Mother, why don't you just call me Starray all the time. Don't bother with my real name anymore if it's too hard to remember." Ray muttered this with ill temper and Barbara chose to ignore the comment.

"I'm sorry, Barbara, but Ray and I have to go to the Vecchios next Sunday. It's Ma's birthday. We're expected to be there," said Fraser.

Ray fidgeted in his chair at these words and of course Fraser noticed it. He resolved to discuss it with Ray later on the drive home.

"Ray, is something wrong? You seem in a bad mooooooood." Fraser said this last word as if to suggest it had some other, hidden meaning.

"Nothing's wrong. I'm fine." Ray's white knuckles, gripping the steering wheel harder than usual, seemed to suggest this was not telling the truth.

"But Ray, I do sense something wrong."

Ray loosened a hand and slapped the steering wheel hard with his palm. "Damn it, Fraser, lay off. I don't want to talk about it, okay?"

"No Ray, it's not okay. You are my partner and my friend. When something is bothering you I want to help."

Fraser's appeal was so simple and honest that Ray just had to respond.

"It's this birthday thing for Mrs. Vecchio. I hate going over there, Fraser. Everybody treats me like I'm one of the family and I'm not, you know. It's all fake."

"Ray, I don't think their affection for you is fake. I'm sure Ma thinks of you as one of her children. I know she thinks of me that way."

"Maybe you, but not me. I'm an intruder. I'm there instead of their own Ray. Mrs. Vecchio's nice about it, but . . . "

"Ray, I think you are wrong. But this brings up a point I have been meaning to discuss with you. Don't you think you should stop referring to Ma as Mrs. Vecchio? Especially when you see her, I've noticed, you never call her Ma, as the rest of us do."

"Why should I, Fraser? I've got a mother already. How do you think she would feel if I called someone else Mother?"

"Many people call more than one person Mother. What did you call Stella's mother when you were married?"

"Nothing I could say in a G-rated fic, Buddy. Just leave this alone, okay?"

It wasn't okay with Fraser but he didn't push it.

Fraser was surprised to see Barbara Kowalski show up his office in the consulate the next day.

"Fraser, did Sta . . . Ray tell you what was bothering him last night."

"Actually, Barbara, he did. He's feeling uncomfortable at the Vecchios. He thinks you and Damien don't like him being too close to them."

"That's just silly, Fraser. How could we object to that? We know he has to pretend to be Ray Vecchio and be part of Vecchio's family."

"Barbara, I think it goes deeper than that. I think he feels that showing any affection to them would be disloyal to his real parents.

"I see."

It seemed to Fraser that she did see, because she nodded in that wise way that only mothers seem to be able to pull off convincingly.

Friday afternoon, before the Sunday of Ma Vecchio's birthday, Ray came home from work and, as usual, picked up his mail from the mailbox in his apartment hallway. He flipped through the bills and advertisements, commenting to himself as walked along the hall, and then suddenly said to himself, "What! A letter from Mother?"

There in his own mother's familiar handwriting, with the return address of the trailer park, was indeed a letter. Ray tore it open and read the first few lines. His eyes blurred with tears and he had to stuff the letter into his pocket and wait to get up the elevator and safely into his apartment so he could read the rest without the world seeing him cry. He dropped into an armchair, wiped his eyes clear as best he could, and read:

My dearest son:
I want to tell you that you can never have too much love in your life. Never turn away someone who offers you love, my child. There's no limit to the room in your heart.

I am the mother who gave birth to you and raised you. That is a special bond that goes beyond the mere word 'mother'. If there is someone else who wants to nurture you, make you feel at ease, care for you, then, Stanley, do you think I could ever object to that? All I want is your happiness and no honourable source of that could ever upset me.

On the contrary, it would upset me to see that I had so failed in my duty to raise you as a good man that you would reject someone's honest affection for you.

May God grant you, my precious boy, as many mothers as He sees fit. It can never diminish what is between us.

Your mother.

Ray sat for a moment and let the tears fall. Then he wiped the last of them away and reached for the telephone.

"Fraser? It's me. Look, do you want to go shopping tomorrow. I still have to get a present for Ma."

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