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Old 08-29-2010, 01:00 PM   #1
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The Next Best Thing - 1

OK. I'm feeling really supported and encouraged after my recent success in the 360 Photo thread Part III , and that little burst of inspiration has convinced me that I can pick this story back up & finish it.

Quick history: After reading a few fan fics here several years ago, I got the idea for a story of my own. I hadn't written any kind of fiction for many years & I'd never written a fan fic but once I got started, people seemed to like it, the words were flowing and I got 16 chapters completed & posted. Then... then I started getting weirded out over writing fiction about real people. My stuff wasn't the least bit slashy, but it just started feeling wrong to me. So I put the story down and stopped writing. But I didn't forget about it and now I've taken it out of mothballs, dusted it off & started it up again because I think it deserves to be finished. Hopefully, you'll agree.


DISCLAIMER: This is a fan fiction. Fiction as in 'didn't happen, won't happen, isn't real'... although a lot of the locations named do exist on a map. Hope that won't affect your level of enjoyment.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~



Overflowing toilets. Electronics obliterated by lightning. Malfunctioning dishwashers. Fires caused by saltwater fish tanks. Certainly not the career she'd imagined for herself, but at least the pay was good and the work was steady. Sure, the repetitive nature of her five- to six-day workweeks was tedious, but she did get to see a lot of pretty country and meet some interesting people. Each day was a different town and a different set of circumstances.

Certainly, Rayelle Galloway had never actually dreamed of being an insurance claims adjuster. She hadn't such an employment option even existed until she was in her early 20s. But approaching 35 years old and with 6 years of experience under her belt, Raye felt that she was one of the best adjusters at Cape Fear Claims Service. Even if she was a woman (as at least one client a week reminded her). Ane whether through perseverance or spite, she'd managed to outlast all the old codgers in the office who still felt that way (or at least the ones still Neanderthal to voice such an opinion out loud) and had the full support and confidence of her boss.

Jimmy Barrister was a thoroughly evolved man and a true equal opportunity employer. He paid Raye the same salary as he did the other guys with her experience and capabilities, and with the exception of roof damages, he allowed Raye to handle whatever came up in her territory. It wasn't necessarily that Jimmy didn't want Raye up on a roof, it was just that they had learned together how hard some stereotypes died among the general population. The first year Raye was in the field, she spent as much time reassuring middle-aged matrons and elderly gentlemen that yes, she was indeed capable and comfortable climbing a ladder onto their roof as she did fighting off the advances of amorous roofers. Only to have to fight with their bosses, the contractors, over every penny of her repair estimates. She insisting that her numbers were good, only to be accused time after time of being “just an uptight bitch" who didn't know the first thing about roofing. Raye had wanted to fight the stereotype, but after much persuasion from Jimmy she finally conceded that she could still be a great adjuster, even if she never walked another steep-pitched A-frame in her life. (That didn't keep her from carrying a folding ladder in the back of her Nissan Pathfinder, though. What Jimmy didn't know wouldn't hurt him and besides – she needed a ladder. How else would she ascend the summit of a client's roof when inspecting lightning damage to a chimney?)

There was a dark cloud that settled over Raye's existence as a first-rate (female!) insurance adjuster, though; it certainly wasn't the type of job that allowed for artistic expression. Inventory lists, replacement estimates and status reports didn't exactly require lots of flowery words. "Just the facts, ma'am", Raye imagined Sergeant Friday telling her every time she sat down with her laptop to bang out the when, where and how of another claim. The only tasks of her daily duties that could even remotely be construed as artistic were the photos she took at each home or place of business she inspected. Unfortunately, they were just salt in the wound of what had once been her driving passion in life. Raye had once dreamed of traveling the world as a National Geographic photographer, snapping exotic people in faraway places; capturing a once-in-a-lifetime events for all of posterity, or showcasing nature in all its glory for folks ‘back home’ to “ooh” and “ahh” over on a Saturday afternoon, just like she'd done so many years ago with her Gran.

Granted, taking pictures of moldy Sheetrock, warped floorboards, and blackened electrical outlets was a far cry from lemurs in Madagascar, but at least the four years of high school Photography Club and two additional years working for a local portrait photographer while she attended night school had somewhat paid off. With her Business Management degree alone and no experience, Jimmy probably would have never taken a chance on putting Raye out in the field. But after spending three years working for him as a secretary and two and half years begging for a chance, it was ultimately her photo portfolio that had bought her the one opportunity she'd get to prove herself.

It still brought a smile to Raye's face to remember how she'd planted the black leather portfolio on Jimmy's desk that Friday morning. Sneaking down the hall, past the coffee junkies who huddled in the Break Room, making sure no one else saw her enter or leave his office, and then returning to her desk with her heart pounding. She'd almost given up when he'd still not said anything to her by 3:30 that afternoon. But then she'd been summoned to Jimmy’s office and she’d almost broken into a sprint going down the hall. Jimmy had sat there behind his massive, cluttered desk looking particularly smug as he gingerly turned one page at a time and made a great show of studying each shot. Nature shots, still lifes, portraiture, action photos, even the saccharine puppies- and kitties-in-a-basket photos that Ms. Evers, the Photography teacher, had insisted each student produce. "You will learn patience, posing, and persistence", she'd insisted. Not to mention 'pee', 'poop' and 'pandemonium' Raye always reminded herself. But Jimmy had seen the clarity and composition in Raye's pictures and was either duly impressed by her talent (which would come in handy when taking damage shots) or simply worn down by her pestering (which would have no end, Jimmy feared). He'd offered to put her into training as soon as a replacement could be found to take over her secretarial duties. Raye had gone on her first 'ride-along' three weeks later with an experienced adjuster and neither she nor Jimmy had ever regretted the decision.

On those days when the Ghost of Dreams Past appeared to torment her for letting her own dreams get away, she always argued that no, she'd put her training to use. Good use, too. It wasn't exactly what she'd had in mind, but it paid her bills and she could hold her head high knowing she did her best on a daily basis. Besides, she would always remind herself, all things happen for good reason.

While she didn’t know it, that included the hose on a Whirlpool washing machine that burst at the beachfront home of Mr. Lionel Arrington, spilling tens of gallons of water across his Brazilian cherry hardwood floors on a beautiful, clear morning in late summer. Raye, still in her nightshirt, sat on the leather ottoman in her living room with notepad in hand, talking to the office secretary about the urgency of the claim and taking notes.
“Unified Insurance wants someone to inspect the house within 24 hours”, Jennifer was saying. “I’ve got the loss notice here… Are you ready to take down the details?”
Raye pulled to cap off her ink pen with her teeth, shifted the phone onto her left shoulder and mumbled, “Uh, yeah – whatta’ you got?”
“P. Lionel Arrington, Sr., 10 Ocean Drive, Wrightsville Beach. Let’s see… I’ve got a home and cell number. You want both?”
“No, I don’t think so”, Raye reasoned out loud, “just give me the cell for now. If I can’t reach him by that, I can just print out the loss notice. Is it in my mailbox yet?”
“Not yet”, Jennifer replied. “I’ll be loading it up and emailing it to you as soon as I get off this call. His cell number is – darn it, I just had it! Oh, here we are – local number, by the way - 555-5468.”
Raye jotted the number down and replaced the pen’s cap. “Thanks, Jen – I’ve got it. I’ll give him a call right now & get this train rolling. Talk to you later.”
Raye disconnected from Jennifer and immediately began dialing Mr. P. Lionel Arrington’s cell phone. So, it’s Wrightsville Beach today, she thought to herself as she counted off cell phone rings. Two rings, then three. Guess I get to wear cargo shorts then, instead of chinos - it being the beach and all, she reasoned to herself. The idea put a smile on her face as she headed to her closet, phone still on her ear. Just as she was about to give up, a smooth English baritone voice answered the call.
“Lionel Arrington here. How may I help you?”
The English accent threw Raye for a moment as she dug through her closet for the day's uniform (khaki shorts, men's undershirt, long-sleeved broadcloth button-down with the company logo on the pocket, socks and Timberland boots). She recovered quickly, though, and went to work.
"Is this Mr. Arrington at 10 Ocean Drive on Wrightsville Beach?"
"Yes, that's correct. Whom may I ask is inquiring?"
His polite directness made Raye smile. This is no good ole' boy you're dealing with today, she told herself. A real gentleman, this one is, and business-like, too. What a nice change that will be!
"My name is Raye Galloway", she answered, "and I work for Cape Fear Claims Services. Unified Insurance has hired my company to be their eyes and ears, if you will, and to examine the damage at your home. If it's convenient for you, I'm free this morning; are you available now?
"Dear lady", came the response, "considering the current state of my home, only pain of death would prevent me from seeing you this morning. May I expect you within the hour?"
"Even better," Raye promised. "I'll be there in about 35 minutes. Look for a silver Nissan Pathfinder."

Raye didn’t believe in such things as fortune telling, but if she had – even if she’d had a personal reader on retainer that morning - she'd have never believed how a leaky washer would become the answer to her long forgotten dreams.
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Old 08-29-2010, 03:42 PM   #2
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I like this..it's well written.
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Old 08-29-2010, 11:40 PM   #3
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wow this is amazing!
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