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Old 09-16-2010, 10:22 AM   #1
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The Next Best Thing - 23

No real events are portrayed in this story. It's a fictional creation, using the names and generalized representations of actual persons. So don't sue me.

For those of you following along at home, please remember that Chap. 22 was split in two: Part A, which I posted & Part B, which was a per request section only, due to content. Chapter 23 should make sense, even if you didn't see 22b, but I'd strongly suggest not skipping over it - there're some really good bits in that section. Kthxbai!

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Raye didn’t fully appreciate that she’d just shot down Adam Clayton and walked out on him until she found herself at the far end of the third floor’s hallway, turning to descend the stairs that would take her to the dining room. Replaying the last words she’d spoken to him in her head, Raye slowly cleared the first four steps before coming to a stop and sitting down on the stairs.

“Ugh”, she moaned quietly. “How am I going get through dinner with Adam right there at the table the whole time?” Lacing her fingers together behind her neck, she bent forward until her forehead was nearly touching her knees and just sat with her eyes closed for a moment. Knowing that Adam would likely be reaching the stairs any second, Raye sat up, took a deep breath and steeled herself for what was certainly going to be the most awkward situation she’d gotten herself into for some time. Making certain that she utilized the handrails, Raye covered the remaining steps two at a time and found herself standing outside the dining room well ahead of most everyone else, from what she could hear.

Leo, Paul and Edge appeared to be discussing some recent property that Edge had either just purchased or was considering for purchase. Raye took one more deep breath and tried to clear any sign of anxiety or shame from her face before stepping into the room. Turning the corner from the hallway, she was slightly surprised to see that neither Bono nor Larry were seated yet; she’d fully expected that she and Adam would have been the last two to arrive.

“Ah, there’s our lovely photographer”, Leo announced as Raye made a beeline for her chair. “She’s doing such a fine job – I can’t wait to see the finished product!” He beamed a proud, grandfatherly smile at Raye as she situated herself at the table. Although she really didn’t feel like graciously accepting compliments or playing happy at the moment, she smiled back and tried to sound as upbeat as when Paul and Leo had last seen her – a little more than forty-five minutes ago. It seemed impossible to Raye that this could be true – had it not been hours since they’d left her alone in the library? No, it just felt that way, she decided sourly.

“Thank you very much, Leo”, she finally replied with false cheeriness. “I’m glad you’re still feeling confident and excited about my work. Now – I’m ready to eat! Where are Bono and Larry?” Raye cringed inwardly for telling such a huge, easily exposed lie – she wasn’t the least bit hungry and probably wouldn’t eat more than two bites if a three-layer pumpkin and chocolate chip cheesecake were served for dinner. Plus, she had glaringly not mentioned Adam. She prayed quickly that no one would notice either gaffe.

“They’re in the lounge”, Edge volunteered, “just finishing some phone calls to the kids, I believe.” Looking back at Lionel and Paul he asked, “Shall I go get them?”

“Let them have a few more minutes”, was Paul’s hushed reply. “I think Bono’s boys are having a bit of difficulty with their Da being away right now. Besides,” he said, looking at Raye with eyebrows raised, “we’re still waiting on Adam as well. Any idea where he might be, Raye?”

Her immediate gut reaction was to defend herself with a two-pronged attack against the three faces suddenly eyeing her with an unhealthy interest: firstly to scream at Paul ‘Why would I know where he is? I don’t know what you’re talking about!’, and secondly, to slither underneath the table and disappear through the floorboards of the dining room. Calculating the potential outcomes that such an outburst would cause in a nanosecond, Raye knew her only choice was to remain calm and answer as truthfully as possible. Managing to avoid blushing through sheer willpower alone, she was proud of herself when she very calmly and honestly stated, “I’m not sure; I left him in the library.”

Raye thought she saw Edge and Paul throw sideways glances at each other, but she chalked it up to ‘performance jitters’ – she was giving one of the more crucial performances of her life at the moment – and chose to believe that she had just misinterpreted what she’d seen. Suddenly obsessed with making sure her dinner fork and knife were lying at precisely a ninety degree angle to the edge of the table and that her water glass was exactly forty-five degrees from the center of her dinner plate, Raye didn’t notice the next person in the room until she heard Edge greet him.

“Ads, we thought you might be passing on dinner!”

Raye fought the urge but her head lifted and her eyes disobediently went to Adam’s face immediately. She waited, literally breathless, to hear the first words he would speak since she’d turned her back on him. Realizing before he could say a word that he was too much the gentleman to make a scene in front everyone else, she relaxed slightly and returned to a relatively normal breathing pattern. She was beginning to come to terms with the fact that her breathing was never going to be completely normal so long as she knew Adam was anywhere in the vicinity.

Very nonchalantly, Adam finally spoke to the group as he took his regular seat at the table, opposite Lionel. “I was just upstairs in the library… watching the rain outside. It’s coming down quite steadily now.” At Adam’s mention of the library, Raye quickly grabbed the carafe of ice water in front of her and filled her drinking glass, then occupied herself with a rigorous inspection of the size and shape of each ice cube she’d collected, thankful that Adam hadn’t chosen to torture her even further by picking the vacant seat at her right.

“Is it raining?” Lionel asked, leaning his ear in the direction of the great room and the nearest window. A hush fell over the room as the majority of those at the table strained their ears to hear raindrops outside. Bono’s and Larry’s muted voices could be heard from the furthest side of the great room, but with conversation in the dining room at a standstill, it was easy to distinguish the splatter of rain against the house and its windows.

“I guess it is”, Paul said. “We’d not even noticed it, had we lads? Sitting here chatting like a bunch of biddies having tea, weren’t we?” Lionel and Edge nodded in agreement while Paul laughed at his comparison.

“Yes, it’s been a right downpour for the better part of at least thirty minutes now. What do you think, Raye – should we be expecting a stormy evening?”

Raye wanted to shoot daggers from her eyes as she looked up from the fascinating collection of lint that she’d been studying on the tablecloth. Adam had purposely worded his comments to contain a veiled message for Raye and she wanted to convey that she did not find it clever of him at all. She knew she’d never be able to accomplish it discreetly with Paul and Edge sitting directly across from her, though, and refrained from even trying. Doing her damnedest not to answer with any sarcasm or bite in her voice, she fell back on her earlier strategy of giving a simple, honest statement and nothing more.

“Not at all. I expect a very quiet evening.”

Adam seemed ready for a battle of wills as he leaned forward with both elbows on the table and continued looking in Raye’s direction. He didn’t get a chance to fire another verbal volley at her, however. Bono and Larry, having completed their phone calls, walked into the dining room just at that moment and the focus of the conversation turned to them. Taking their places at the remaining empty seats, Bono and Larry filled the spaces between Raye and Adam. Raye appreciated the irony of the fact that, even after being in their company for several days, typically having Bono right next to her would have been extremely unnerving for her. However, nothing about the day so far had been typical and Raye was too Adam-distracted at the moment to be Bono-distracted. (She did at least feel that if Bono knew the sordid details, he wouldn’t be upset with her for being temporarily immune to him.)

“Everyone alright at home?” Edge asked Bono and Larry. Lionel and Paul excused themselves to go help Joy bring dinner to the table and Raye just sat quietly as Bono, Larry and Edge shared all the trials and tribulations from home that had needed the attention of ‘Daddy’. It was cute beyond words to see three world-renowned rock stars comparing long distance bed time rituals and parenting traditions with each other, but Raye couldn’t enjoy the conversation. While Adam was doing an excellent job of inserting comments into the others’ conversation and remaining engaged with them, Raye could feel he was also doing a fine job of staring a hole into her. She began to fidget with her napkin as a distraction to Adam’s relentless visual stalking. Shifting slightly in her seat, Raye assessed the situation to her right, keeping her eyes low and away from Adam’s face. Seeing that she wasn’t in Larry’s line of vision at all and that Bono was fully focused on what he was relaying to Edge, Raye risked a furtive glance at Adam. Their eyes locked and Raye made her first and only attempt to communicate with him while at the table. Tightening her jaw, she nodded her head once, ever so slightly, and hoped he’d understand her body language for ‘That’s enough – knock it off!’

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After a torturous hour and a half, Raye was finally able to break away from dinner without appearing rude. All things considered, she felt she’d done a fair job of acting normal throughout the meal. She made some small talk, she laughed along at some the jokes told, and she didn’t develop a twitch or have a nervous breakdown during after-dinner coffee. The only real exception was that after barely touching her salad and coq au vin, she had to convince Leo it was only because she was still so excited from learning about the new album that she just couldn’t eat. No one questioned her explanation, though, so Raye took that as a sign that she’d fooled the room – with the exception of Adam, of course.

He too, masterfully concealed any raw emotions that he may have been feeling and endured the meal the same as Raye. Although, Raye wasn’t sure “endured” was the right word to use for Adam. When she had denied Leo’s offer of crème Brule at least three times and finally gotten him to accept that she was tired and wanted to turn in early for a change, Adam was deep into a discussion with Larry and Edge on the merits of buying property on the Caribbean islands of St. Barts - St. Kitts versus Antigua – Barbuda. Raye decided that if Adam was acting, then he was much better at it than she was, because he appeared to be totally enthralled with the subject matter. Raye bid the room a good night and announced that she was going to take advantage of the rain that continued to fall by going to bed and letting it lull her to sleep. Leo assured her that he’d have her equipment moved down from the library as he’d promised and everyone agreed they would meet in the kitchen by 9:30 the following morning to plan out their day.

Reaching the base of the stairs, Raye stopped and looked up the first flight. Now that she wasn’t concerned with whether anyone thought she was acting strangely or not, she began to grasp the scope of her exhaustion and seriously doubted she could manage a couple of stairs, much less two flights. Taking the few steps that put her in front of the service elevator, Raye pressed the call button and waited. Almost immediately, the bell sounded and the brushed steel door swished open, welcoming her into the solitude of the elevator car. The door closed again and Raye wearily pressed the illuminated ‘2’, the first of many tears to come finally streaking down her cheeks as she was slowly carried to her floor.

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Just as she suspected after the elevator door had glided closed in front of her, there seemed to be no end to the tears that sprang from Raye’s eyes. Every time she thought she’d purged herself of any guilt or remorse, they would come again, building from a slow trickle into muffled sobs that convulsed her into a fetal position as she lie in the bed. It was where she’d been since entering her room, without so much as removing her shoes or even bothering to turn on a lamp.

Raye eventually calmed herself to the point where she felt her crying was finally over. Sitting up in the bed she blankly stared across the darkened room in the direction of the balcony. There was still some rain falling, though not nearly as much as when she’d first gone to bed. As she sat on top of the bedcovers, Raye knew she should at least brush her teeth and wash her face before going to sleep but she couldn’t muster the motivation to do either. Intending to just sleep in her tank top and over shirt, Raye stood briefly at the edge of the bed and pushed her shoes off her feet before removing her jeans and allowing them to fall to the floor in a heap. She wrestled off her bra from underneath her top and dropped it in the general area where her jeans lie crumpled. Pulling back the covers, she reentered the bed and began to try and find a comfortable position that would allow her to fall asleep as quickly as possible.

Not finding any comfort lying on her back, Raye rolled onto her left side, causing her over shirt to become twisted to the point that the collar was at her face. At first frustrated that she’d not realized this would happen, she took a deep exasperated breath in anticipation of having sitting up once more and pull the shirt off. She knew immediately she’d made a terrible mistake – lingering on the shirt’s collar was Adam’s personal scent, mixed with his cologne. It filled her nose, setting off a domino reaction amongst her senses. She could see him holding her in her mind’s eye; could taste the delicate saltiness of his skin, the sweetness of his breath; she could feel the heat of his touch on her neck. Blinded by fresh tears, Raye sat up quickly, ripped the button up shirt from her torso and crumpled it into a ball before throwing it across the room. Returning her head to the pillow, she briefly glanced at the nightstand where the blue glow of her alarm clock showed the time as 1:23AM.

Seeing that she’d been lying in bed crying for three and a half hours instead of sleeping would have usually made her extremely angry with herself for being so ridiculous. And Raye would have easily picked a good rage over the utter despair the blanketed her when her mind cruelly and suddenly conjured the thought of whether Adam had gone to sleep with a clear conscience or if he, too, were lying awake in his bed, unable to sleep for thinking of what had occurred between them. Rolling back to her left side, Raye buried her face into her pillow as another wave of body-wracking sobs overtook her. Reduced to a hollowed out shell of a body, she finally whimpered herself into a restless sleep somewhere around quarter after two.
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Old 09-17-2010, 04:40 AM   #2
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This is an amazing fanfic. In fact the best I´ve read in such a long, long, time. Just read all 23 chapters at once. Cant really stop!

You have such a way with words. Hope you write some more fics and post them over here!!
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Old 09-17-2010, 05:21 PM   #3
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Thank you so much. Chap. 24 should be finished & posted later tonight.
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Old 09-18-2010, 11:13 PM   #4
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poor Raye...
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